As the international volunteer network InformNapalm reports, members of NGO “Belarusian Cossacks” conducted large-scale military exercises in Belarus. Although a youth event was declared, the participants were mainly middle-aged men, most of whom appeared to have military service experience. The exercises took place at the White Grove airsoft field in Brest region. According to InformNapalm investigators, there were few Cossack paraphernalia and elements of historical reenactment during the exercises, and the main attention was paid to the tactical coordination of groups.
The meeting was chaired by leaders of the “Belarusian Cossacks” known for their pro-Russian views. Despite the fact that the Cossacks as a phenomenon do not have a permanent historical tradition in Belarus, this whole movement in the country was formed and worked according to a Russian model. At first, those were societies somewhat similar to historical re-enactors, but the ideology has always been inherent: Russian monarchism of the early 20th century style. Pro-Russian Cossack organisations always work closely with the Russian Orthodox Church. But over time, respect for tradition recedes before the actual creation of paramilitary structures. All this paradigm of change was experienced by Cossack formations in Donbas and Crimea. If in the 1990s they were mostly fans of beautiful costumes and willing to receive the titles of “colonels of the Cossack troops” and fake awards, then in 2014 they were units ready for forceful confrontation. During the occupation of Crimea, and especially during the “Russian Spring” in the Luhansk region, it was the Cossack formations (both created in Ukraine and their “brothers in arms” from Russia) that were the “intermediate” force structure until the approach of regular Russian units. Luhansk pro-Russian Cossack organisations, with the assistance of similar structures from Russia, mainly from the Don, became the basis for the creation of the “People’s Militia of the Luhansk People’s Republic,” which now opposes the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
It is telling that the website of the “Belarusian Cossacks” does not contain any information about the exercises. If you read the news on this site, you get the impression that it is an ordinary historical club. This is the official cover of the organisation. Although the real state of affairs indicates that the adepts of full integration with Russia wear the Cossack uniform in Belarus. Thus, leader of the “Belarusian Cossacks” Nikolai Ulakhnevich said in 2016 that “the Russian world should not be asked to come to us, it is already in the souls of Belarusian believers.” He also repeated the thesis popular among his associates that “Russians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians are one people.”
Coordination of Cossack units in Belarus can have several purposes. The first is to show the incumbent President of Belarus that there are pro-Russian forces in his country ready for a forceful confrontation. In this way, Moscow can persuade Lukashenka to be more flexible. Second purpose: mobilisation and preparation of intelligence and sabotage groups in case Russia dares to stick to a forceful scenario in Belarus. The third purpose, a less probable one, but all worth noting: the exercises were held in Western Belarus, near the border with Poland. It is possible that the “Belarusian Cossacks” are planned to be used for provocations against Poland, or that the training of paramilitary forces is a kind of “warm-up” before the large-scale West 2021 exercises.