A Russian Cossack, right, watches pedestrians as he patrols a Moscow railway station. (Pavel Golovkin/AP)They've technically been around for centuries, but a small group of Cossacks recently returned to officially patrol the streets of Moscow.
"We're like Chuck Norris!" Cossack patrol leader Igor Gulichev said, comparing his colleagues to the role made famous by Norris in the 1990s TV show "Walker, Texas Ranger."
According to the Russian 2010 census, about 650,000 citizens self-identified as Cossacks but only eight of the patrolmen, originally heralded for their sword-fighting ability, have been selected to walk the streets of Moscow looking for beggars, drunks and illegally parked cars, according to the Associated Press.
While their modern role has shifted, the newly appointed Cossacks are fighting crime in their traditional uniform and fur hat. The AP says the Kremlin hopes the return of the Cossacks will also "promote conservative values and appeal to nationalists."
The political angle leads straight to the top of Russia's government. In 2005, Russian President Vladimir Putin was inducted into the Cossack Host and bestowed the rank of Cossack colonel, a title once held by the country's imperial czars.
Gulichev said if his patrol passes this initial test it could eventually become an armed and salaried auxiliary force. Currently, the patrol is a volunteer force but members get free city bus passes.
An All-Russia Cossack Host with 400,000 members reporting directly to Putin will be launched by the end of the year.
And to those who point to the Cossacks' controversial past, which has included opposition to Jews, Catholics and Poles, Gulichev said the modern incarnation is no different than that of the famed Texas Rangers.
"They are just like Cossacks and they work for the government, but they're welcomed with open arms," he said. "How come this should be allowed in America but not in Russia, with our rich Cossack traditions?"
However, the first Cossack patrol did not yield substantial results. According to the AP, the patrol removed two elderly beggars, an unlicensed sock vendor and an old woman selling dried mushrooms. The unlicensed vendor reportedly returned to his trading post shortly after the Cossacks departed.