CAIRO - The formation of patrols from ethnic Russians to tackle immigration issues and enforce order in one of Russia's southern regions is sparking condemnation for targeting Caucasian Muslim immigrants.
What you can't do, the Cossacks can, Governor Aleksandr Tkachev of the Krasnodar region told law enforcement officers in a speech widely circulated on the Internet and cited by The New York Times.
We have no other way we shall stamp it out, instill order; we shall demand paperwork and enforce migration policies.
At the meeting with regional police chiefs on Thursday, Tkachev announced the establishment of a 1,000-member security force from Cossack volunteers.
With an annual budget of more than $20 million, the force would assist police in upholding public order in the region as of September.
Formed of Kuban Cossacks, a multi-ethnic group descended from farmers whose paramilitary forces served the czars, the force can take measures beyond what the police are allowed to.
When we travel to the Caucasus republics or to Europe, we always try to adjust our customs and principles: We don't speak in our language too loud, don't act disturbingly. That's a civilized person's behavior, the governor was quoted as saying by local news website yuga.ru.
But we see our guests behaving differently. They can play their national music at high volume or drive where it is not permitted, drawing attention to themselves and acting impertinently and cynically.
We all realize that nobody goes against the people, everybody is afraid of it. That's why when Cossacks are with the law enforces, with the police, you will feel more confident.
He said that migrants from the North Caucasus are often not welcomed by ethnic Russians, who consider them outsiders.
He argued that ethnic Russians there were already feeling uncomfortable, and that the people who settled the region, Cossacks among them, year after year are losing their position.
Who will answer when the first blood is spilled, when interethnic conflicts start? And sooner or later it will happen, Tkachev said.
Citing Kosovo as an example, the governor said Albanians began to destroy churches, forced the dominance of their culture, their religion, began conflicts, imposed pressure, blood, small war, big war. And that was it there was no country, there were no people, thousands of refugees all over the world.
But the governor's move won the ire of human rights groups for targeting Muslim immigrants.
We will turn to the General Prosecutor's Office with a suggestion to check the legality of [the Cossack force], Aleksandr Sokolov, the Russian Public Chamber representative, was quoted as saying by Russia Today.
I will also raise the issue during the first session of the Presidential council for interethnic relations this autumn.
Lyudmila Alekseeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki group, said the governor's move was meant to discriminate against Muslim citizens.
How can anyone hound the Cossacks on people from Caucasus, or vice-versa? Are the people from the Caucasus not Russian citizens? Alekseeva told Dozhd TV.
Gadzhimet Safaraliyev, head of the State Duma's committee on questions of nationality, was among few officials who criticized the move.
Why should they have more rights than the police? Is that written somewhere in the Constitution? Safaraliyev told the Web site gazeta.ru.
He went on to note that several medals had been won at the London Olympics by athletes from the Caucasus.
When Caucasians win three gold medals, they're Russians, he said.
But when they move somewhere, they are unwanted individuals.
The Russian Federation is home to some 23 million Muslims in the north of the Caucasus and southern republics of Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan.Islam is Russia's second-largest religion representing roughly 15 percent of its 145 million predominantly Orthodox population.