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Cossacks
And The Russian State

First the Cossacks were not the Russian Tsar's subordinates, but by the natural force of events, they had the same enemies, and in many conflicts fought as allies. Later, when Cossacks became subjects to the Russian Crowne, they became a military service people. Ancient China used to have the Great Wall as a protection from the nomads, Russia had Cossacks for the same function. And the Cossack "Great Wall" could move faster than any enemy, you couldn't just go around it.

Some sources mention that the Cossacks fought on the Russian side in the Kulikovo battle (1380), where Prince of Moscow, Dmitry Donskoy, defeated the army of the Golden Horde. From the 1400s, Cossacks are frequently mentioned in the chronicles as units handling border defense. Mounted Cossacks were stationed in stanitsa's (forts) and patrolled the territories between those.

By 15th century there were two different types of Cossacks: the town Cossacks and free Cossacks. The first group was a cavalry based in the frontier towns and stanitsa. They were practically on the state service. They were usually granted some land by the state, and were attached to the area as farmers. They were responsible for the border patrol, and later, as the border moved away from those towns, they began carrying functions of maintaining order in the towns.

The second type, free Cossacks, were performing functions of steppe patrols (further from the towns), the very first line of defense. What we know and understand now under the word "Cossack", developed from the second, free type. Both town and free Cossacks served to the state, but the town Cossacks did it as service people, and the free Cossacks did it because they had the same enemies. They were sort of "natural allies".

The relations between the state and the free Cossacks were not always smooth, if not to say worse. But there were common culture, language, religion, and the same rivals. The Cossacks openly disliked state bureaucracy, but respected the authority of Russian Tsar and Russian Patriarch. (At the same time, when they felt that the Tsars weren't just and did wrong, they didn't hesitate to start rebellions. At the same time, they were the most vigorous defenders of Russia under the Romanov dynasty in all the external wars.)

Muscovian Russia, Poland, Turkish Empire, Crimean Khanate tried to get the Cossacks on their side. But even though siding often with Russians in their external wars, the Cossacks kept their own government, court system and even managed to conduct independent foreign policy. Then, in 17th century, Cossacks territories found themselves within the expanded Russia. Still, the Cossacks didn't become regular population of the Empire, they kept a lot of their freedoms and had a very special place in the state hierarchy. The Cossacks never became serfs like other Russians and Ukrainians, they were always free. And in the army, guilty Cossacks could not be punished same way like other soldiers, their punishment system was similar to the one for the officers.

The relationship between Russian State and the Cossacks was very complex. On one hand, Cossacks defended the borders, and provided excellent light cavalry for Russia's wars with her enemies. At the same time, Cossacks were involved in practically any peasant wars against the throne. Both in Razin's and Pugachev's revolt most of the Cossacks chose not to support the rebellions, there were also many of those who did. Beginning from Peter the Great Russian government made strong efforts to suppress the anty-state moods in the Cossack communities. Under the Catherine the Great the Zaporozhian Cossack Host was disbanded, the Cossacks were moved closer to the new borders, and later became the basis of the Kuban Cossack host, together with the Don Cossacks. The Yaik Cossacks were renamed to Ural Cossacks and resettled - the name Yaik had too many negative anty-government connotations after the Pugachev's rebellion.

It is quite interesting that Russian Cossacks always loved Russia, always fought her enemies, but always hated Russian governmental bureaucracy. At the same time, Cossacks had a very special relationship with the Romanov dynasty, considering Russian Tsar to be the leader of all the Orthodox people, a supreme patron and benefactor. (All this century it was pretty much the same: Cossacks loved Mother Russia, bravely fought and died for her on the battlefields, but hated the State. Except that after the communists assassinated the royal dynasty in 1918, there was no such a link as Tsar between the Cossackdom and the State. That is part of the reason why many Cossacks, along with many other Russians, chose to fight against Stalin during WWII: they believed they fought against the demonic regime that was killing their Russia)

Cossacks began their military servise to the Tsars at age of 18. Every physically capable man was to enroll. The Cossack was to provide his uniform, horse with all the furniture (somewhat different from the regular army standards), weapons (the cost of the rifle could be split between the government and the Cossack, but the bullets were provided by the state, without limitation). The term of service was from 18 to 25 years (it was changed a few times). Usually, the percentage of the Cossack male population that served in the army was twice as high than that of the rest of Russians. The same trend is evident even now. Army recruites higher percentage of the population in traditional Cossack areas.

 

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