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KGB General In Cossack's Clothing: Meet The Man Behind The Whips

A "Cossack" assaults an antigovernment protester during clashes in Pushkin Square in Moscow on May 5.

Last week, a Moscow district court fined Yevgeny Fyodorchunkov 1,000 rubles ($16) for petty hooliganism for his role in beating protesters at a May 5 demonstration in Moscow against President Vladimir Putin. Fyodorchunkov claimed at the May 14 hearing that he was a Cossack and that he belonged to a "public organization," but the court did not identify the group.

In the days since paramilitaries dressed in traditional Cossack garb brutally attacked and beat protesters with whips at an unsanctioned demonstration organized by opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, activists have been poring over videos and photographs trying to identify the assailants and the organization to which they belonged.

They have succeeded in recognizing the insignia on the Cossack-like dress the men wore as that of the so-called Central Cossack Host (TsKV), which is headed by a Kremlin-appointed "ataman" named Ivan Mironov.

"Our friendship society maintains the traditions not only of the Chekists of Irkutsk," Mironov, an influential member of numerous groupings that blur the divide between state and civil society, told the audience at a meeting of one of those organizations in April, using an acronym for agents of the Soviet security services, "but of all the other workers of the state security organs."

It is at the head of an ostensibly Cossack organization, the TsKV and its commercial arm, Atamansky, which arose in the thick of the past two decades of Vladimir Putin's domination, that Mironov has come into his own -- seemingly harnessing his decadeslong KGB experience to rally his neo-Cossack followers in pursuit of what the group says is "security and maintaining public order."

He got there, according to the accounts of ex-rivals and other officials who came into contact with the ascendant Mironov, thanks in part to his efforts helping to crush a restive labor union, leveraging a post in the Samara governor's office to erase a shady, vanquished business rival of the governor's, and rebranding himself as a "Cossack" leader, signing lucrative state contracts to "maintain public order."

Unclear Connections

Since 2010, Mironov has portrayed himself as a Cossack.

But it is unclear whether he has any historical connection to the tsarist-era Cossack caste, which was militantly anti-Soviet and was largely driven out of the Soviet Union during Russia's post-1917 civil war.

In fact, Mironov, 65, made his long career on the opposite side of the barricades.​

Ivan Mironov in a photograph taken during his time working in the office of the governor of the Samara region.
Ivan Mironov in a photograph taken during his time working in the office of the governor of the Samara region.

According to his official biography, Mironov was born in 1952 and entered the Soviet KGB in 1974. He retired from the Federal Security Service (FSB), a KGB successor organization, in 2004 with the rank of lieutenant general. The uniform he wears in official TsKV photographs is that of an FSB general with a "Cossack" insignia sewn to the sleeve.

While working in the FSB in the 1990s, Mironov was reportedly involved in the unsuccessful investigation into the 1995 murder of journalist Vladislav Listyev and the probe into a 1999 spate of apartment-building bombings that killed nearly 300 people and sowed the panic that paved the way for Putin's rise to the presidency. At one time, he was the direct boss of FSB officer Aleksandr Litvinenko, who famously accused the FSB of organizing the apartment bombings and who was murdered in London in 2006. (Mironov is mentioned in Litvinenko's book, Lubyanka Criminal Group.)

After he retired from the FSB, Mironov began a career that was closely tied to Sergei Chemezov, a top member of Putin's inner circle who lived in the 1980s in the same Dresden apartment complex as the young KGB officer and future president, and their families became friendly.

His political charm was not only based on his close relations with Chemezov but on his experience in the organs of the KGB.... He was viewed as a man with very serious connections in the security structures."
-- Mikhail Matveyev, former regional lawmaker

A Soviet military academy graduate, Chemezov subsequently ran the lucrative state company Rosoboroneksport (weapons exports) and now runs Rostec, a sprawling state conglomerate that comprises some 700 entities formed into more than a dozen holding companies.

In the early 2000s, a fierce takeover battle was fought over the AvtoVAZ carmaker in Tolyatti, which for a time was controlled by oligarch Boris Berezovsky. In 2005, the government managed to wrest control away from Berezovsky (who had fled to the United Kingdom in 2003, where he died under unclear circumstances in March 2013). The plant came under the control of Rosoboroneksport, which sent its own management team.

By then a retired FSB general, Mironov was named the factory's "director for special tasks."

But Rosoboroneksport had to contend with a local company in Samara called SOK, which controlled the sale of AvtoVAZ products and the distribution of spare parts. Several SOK owners were reputed to be organized-crime bosses and had earlier been questioned by the police when one of their competitors was killed by a grenade launcher. Within two years, however, Rosoboroneksport managed to get rid of SOK. SOK's majority owner, Yury Kachmazov, and several top managers fled the country after arrest warrants were issued for them. One SOK vice president died under mysterious circumstances, with his body showing signs of torture.

In 2007, AvtoVAZ President Vladimir Artyakov headed the local candidate list for United Russia in the State Duma elections. AvtoVAZ managers had promised workers a monthly wage of 25,000 rubles ($981), and after United Russia won the election, plant workers formed the Unity independent trade union to pressure managers to keep their promise.

Cossacks emerged in the 18th century and were incorporated by the tsarist regime to secure buffer zones along the wild perimeters of the Russian Empire in exchange for relative independence.
Cossacks emerged in the 18th century and were incorporated by the tsarist regime to secure buffer zones along the wild perimeters of the Russian Empire in exchange for relative independence.

Pyotr Zolotarev, who was the head of Unity at the time, told Current Time TV -- the Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with Voice of America -- that Mironov was tasked with making sure the workers' demands came to nothing.

"The plant security department was told to identify the rebels, isolate them, and get rid of them," Zolotarev said. "At workers' meetings, [Mironov's] agents were shouting slogans against me, calling me a traitor who was provoking the people."

The plant succeeded in taking the strike organizers to court and having their action declared illegal. Several workers were deemed to have been "insubordinate" and were fired.

Threats Of Physical Harm

Also in 2007, Artyakov was named Samara Oblast governor and he took Mironov with him as deputy governor for security.

Mikhail Matveyev, who was a regional lawmaker from the Communist Party at the time, told Current Time TV that he believes Mironov was tasked with eliminating all traces of the SOK group from the region. Matveyev said he recalled Mironov's first meeting with lawmakers, during which he said the deputy governor soundly cursed SOK and threatened physical harm against SOK leader Kachmazov.

"It was obvious that such a statement, which included an appeal to prosecutors, could only be made with the approval of someone at a very high level," Matveyev said.

Matveyev stressed that Mironov appeared to be a very powerful figure in Samara at the time.

"His political charm was not only based on his close relations with Chemezov but on his experience in the organs of the KGB, where he held senior posts," Matveyev said. "He was viewed as a man with very serious connections in the security structures."

Mironov was also nominally in charge of the region's battle against corruption, but some locals have suggested any such efforts were selective and ineffective.

"I approached him about dealing with a local mafia working in real estate," said former regional lawmaker Natalya Bobrova, "but he not only was unable to help me, he turned out to be completely incompetent from the legal point of view. Bureaucrats are never corruption fighters. It is comical how they manage never to do any real work."

Igor Yermolenko, head of the Samara branch of the liberal Yabloko party, agreed, describing Mironov's anticorruption effort as "an imitation of work" and alleging that it became a "mechanism for taking action against economic and political rivals."

In 2009, Mironov was made board chairman of the Baikal Irkutsk Friendship Society. The president of that nominally nongovernmental organization is Sergei Chemezov, and influential members include Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika, Irkutsk Oblast Governor Sergei Levchenko, Rosoboroneksport General Director Anatoly Isaikin, in addition to members of the State Duma and directors of various firms in the Rostec holding.

The society's website describes it as "a hearth at which the people of Irkutsk and of Moscow have the opportunity to warm their souls. Maintaining the fire and warmth of that hearth is the main activity of the society." One of the ways the society keeps the hearth warm is by sponsoring the publication of the magazine Russian Vodka.

In 2013, Artyakov left the governor's office and Mironov left Samara with him. Now, Mironov is a deputy general director of the firm Radioelektronnyye Tekhnologii, which is part of Chemezov's holding.

That position has afforded Mironov the time to remake himself as a devoutly Russian Orthodox pseudo-Cossack leader. In 2010, he was made "ataman" of the Volga Cossack Society. Georgy Borisenko, who is still a member of that organization, described Mironov as a man with "definite authority."

State-ification Of Cossack Societies

Former lawmaker Matveyev said Mironov's appearance among the Volga neo-Cossacks was part of a general trend of the "state-ification of Cossack societies" during which democratically elected atamans were replaced with state officials. He added that neo-Cossack societies themselves were divided between conflicting desires to, on the one hand, be given an official state security role and, on the other, to be independent and self-governing.

Historically, Cossacks in Russia lived in self-governing, devoutly Russian Orthodox, militarized communities mostly along Russia's southern border and in southeastern Ukraine. They emerged in the 18th century and were incorporated by the tsarist regime to secure buffer zones along the wild perimeters of the Russian Empire in exchange for relative independence.

In the late imperial period, they were increasingly used by the government for police functions and were often seen as the brutal hand of the tsar in putting down social unrest.

After the Bolshevik coup in 1917, the Cossacks fought against the communists and were largely driven out of the country during the Russian Civil War. Those who remained in the Soviet Union suffered intense persecution under Soviet leaders Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin. Most Cossack organizations abroad trace their roots to the original Cossack communities and have no relations with the modern "Cossack" communities that have emerged in Russia and Ukraine in the post-Soviet period.

In 2005, Putin signed a law called On The State Service Of Russian Cossacks that registered "Cossack" organizations and brought them under government control. "Registered Cossacks present a force that can become not just a symbol of the Kremlin's neoconservatism, but also a tool of repression against those who openly protest against current state policies," Czech historian Tomas Baranec wrote in a 2014 report on the revival of pseudo-Cossack institutions in Russia.

By 2014, Mironov had been selected to head the TsKV, a posting that was confirmed by an order from Putin. Since then, the TsKV has signed 18 government contracts worth more than 53 million rubles ($850,000). The organization has received 36 million rubles ($578,000) from the Moscow city government, including almost 16 million rubles ($26,000) for security and maintaining public order.

In 2017, Mironov and fellow KGB/Rosoboroneksport/TsKV veteran Vyacheslav Pavlov had created Atamansky, a neo-Cossack group that describes itself as primarily involved in "security and maintaining public order."

It was in an address to the Baikal Irkutsky Friendship Society that Mironov made his loyalties clear, pledging fidelity to the "traditions" of Soviet security and other state security organs.

Written by Robert Coalson on the basis of reporting by Current Time TV correspondent Yelena Vavina