MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian paramilitary units providing security for the soccer World Cup included among their members Cossack fighters who took part in clandestine campaigns in Ukraine and Syria.
At least 19 members of six Cossack groups who died or were captured have been identified by Reuters as having fought either alongside Moscow-backed separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine or as Kremlin-backed private military contractors in Syria in support of Moscow’s ally, President Bashar al-Assad.
Below are details of the fighters, their Cossack organisations and the organisations’ roles in World Cup security.
The southern Russian city’s Fisht stadium will host opening round matches involving Portugal, Spain, Belgium, Panama, Germany, Sweden, Australia and Peru. It will also host matches in the knockout stages and a quarter-final.
Local Cossack organisation the Kuban Cossack Army will deploy 538 Cossacks to guard the World Cup in Sochi, according to a spokeswoman for the organisation.
The Kuban Cossack Army has lost at least six fighters since 2014. Yevgeny Ponomarev, Yuri Firsov and Vladimir Komissarov were killed in eastern Ukraine, local Cossack leaders told Reuters. Yury Sokalsky and Sergei Morozov were killed near Syria’s Palmyra, according to people who knew them. A sixth person, Alexei Lavrinenko, also fought with pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine and died of natural causes shortly after his return home.
The Samara Arena will host group stage matches involving Costa Rica, Serbia, Denmark, Australia, Uruguay, Russia, Senegal and Colombia.
Local Cossack organisation the Volga Cossack Army is sending 54 members to work mainly as stewards and volunteers at the Samara matches, Volga Cossack Army ataman Yuri Ivanov told Reuters.
The Volga Cossack Army lost one of its members, Maxim Kolganov, in fighting for the Syrian city of Palmyra in 2016, his relatives told Reuters.
Rostov, in southern Russia, will host first-round matches involving Brazil, Switzerland, Uruguay, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Mexico, Iceland, and Croatia.
Local Cossack organisation the Great Don Army is deploying about 200 Cossacks for World Cup security duties, according to local government officials and Cossack leaders.
Roman Zabolotny, a member of the Great Don Army, was captured last year by Islamic State in Syria, where he fought as a private military contractor, according to a video distributed by the group.
Members of Rostov Cossack units said his whereabouts are not known.
The stadium in the city will host World Cup opening round matches involving Egypt, Uruguay, France, Peru, Japan, Senegal, Mexico and Sweden.
The Orenburg Cossack Army is deploying 65 Cossacks to guard the area outside the stadium, the city centre and Yekaterinburg airport, their commander Artyom Bolotov told Reuters. They will be on duty from early morning until late at night on the days of four matches, the days before them and the following days, he said.
The Orenburg Cossack Army lost at least two of its members, Ruslan Uskombayev and Vasily Zhukov, in Ukraine and three more, Mikhail Chernov, Stanislav Matveyev and Alexei Starikov, in Syria, according to local Cossack commanders and the official website of the Cossack unit.
During the World Cup, the Nigerian team will have its team base in this resort in the foothills of the Caucasus mountains.
The Terek Cossack Army, based in the south of Russia, will patrol the streets of Yessentuki during the tournament, said Terek Cossack Army ataman, or commander, Alexander Zhuravsky.
The Terek Cossack Army lost four Cossacks, Alexander Ishenko, Alexander Bokov, Alexei Trofimov and Svyatoslav Pavlov, in Ukraine and one more, Ivan Arkhimovich, in Syria.
This Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea will host opening round marches involving Nigeria, Croatia, Serbia, Switzerland, Spain, Morocco, England and Belgium.
The Baltic Cossack District will reinforce its patrols in Kaliningrad during the matches.
One of the organisation’s members, Vladimir Loginov, was killed in Syria early this year.
Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall