Kseniya Kirillova explains the influences that put overseas Russians under pressure from Putin and how to counter them.
"Putin, bring in troops!"
Last week, the head of a major Russian think tank, the Foundation for the Protection of National Values, proposed to amend the Russian Constitution to include: in the words of Alexander Malkevich, the right to protect Russians abroad. In particular, the Foundation wishes to supplement Article 61 of the Constitution, guaranteeing protection and patronage to Russian citizens outside the country, with a right to protection.
The Russian Federation recognizes its right to use any force to protect the life and property of its citizens abroad in cases where the host country cannot or does not want to provide them with the protection to which they have law.
The key phrase is the use of "all strengthTo protect not only the life but also the property of Russian citizens. At the same time, Malkevich does not explain what type of protection Russian emigrants are entitled to.
Judging by the fact that the reason for the amendment was the recent arrest of a Russian woman Olesya Krasilova in Spain at the request of the United States and the extradition of a number of Russian pirates to America, it extends to cases of prosecution of Russian citizens by authorities of other countries.
Vulnerability of Russians abroad – Excommunication
What is most alarming about this proposal is not only the will to use force against other countries under the pretext of protecting Russian citizens, but also that such an initiative is supported by Russian diasporas abroad. The counterintelligence services of western countries trying to follow the activity of Russian intelligence services on their territory often do not pay enough attention to Moscow's collaboration with the Russians on the subject. 39; abroad.
Although it may be an exaggeration to compare Kremlin diaspora policy towards German agents during the Third Reich, popularity of Vladimir Putin among Russians living abroad in the 2018 presidential election far surpassed its results in Russia. There are several psychological reasons for this.
Many emigrants have a psychological link with their homeland feelings of guilt. The idea that emigration to a "hostile" country (especially to the United States or Great Britain) is a betrayal has been gradually transmitted by Russian propaganda until 39; it somehow settles in the subconscious of people, especially those who have not deliberately embarked on the path of contestation. Even after deciding to leave Russia for personal reasons (due to a lower standard of living, the need to thrive or the desire to provide their children with a good education and good prospects), these people were absolutely not prepared to be labeled. like "traitors".
The Kremlin creates many associations, forums and congresses of Russian-speaking compatriots who openly declare the objective of restoring communication with the great homeland. Most of these associations involve support for Putin's current foreign policy. Many emigrants, even if they were initially indifferent to politics, are ready to easily accept this unwritten condition in order to continue to live peacefully abroad, while feeling "forgiven" by Russia.
For example, in a recent conflict between two different groups in the pro-russian part of the diaspora in the united states, one of the parties threatened the other to ban participation in any event organized by the consulates and the Embassy of Russia in the United States. Even the threat of "embassy excommunication" was seen by these people as the most severe punishment. Having no other connection to their historic homeland, these Americans cherished formal contact with the Russian state more than their reputation in their own country.
Desire and belonging
The second weakness from which the Kremlin benefits is the need for cultural self-identification of Russian emigrants. Many organizations created or developed with the support of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, although formally of a cultural and educational nature, also exert secret pressure in the name of the Kremlin agenda.
In general, 90% of the activities of these organizations are non-political in nature; however, those who deepen their work, sooner or later, are forced to face its political aspect.
For example, the Congress of Russian Americans positions as the oldest national organization rooted in Orthodox Christian religious values. He is engaged in religious and charitable activities, but sends at the same time letters to the President asking for the lifting of sanctions against Russia.
The main themes of the events organized by these organizations relate to the study of the Russian language and the history of Russian emigration. However, like the organizers themselves report, there are also messages about "the role the United States has played in triggering the colored revolutions around the perimeter of Russia." Sometimes, during these events, they spread conspiracy theories about the deep state demonizing Russia and openly promote support for Donald Trump.
The third vulnerability actively used by Moscow is the so-called emigrant crisis. According to psychologists, almost all emigrants go through a phase of rejection, and sometimes even hatred towards a new country, including those who now live comfortably in this country.
Under normal conditions, a period of heightened criticism of a new homeland is temporary and leaves room for adaptation. However, the Russian authorities are intensely trying to create a special environment for Russians abroad, to isolate them ideologically and mentally from the host country. As a result, this environment which, in a crisis situation, is perceived as a consolation and a source of comfort, can later become a psychological trap which prevents true assimilation.
In the future, a person from such an environment can even officially join American society, but his soul will remain attached to his "true" homeland, embodied in immigrant organizations.
How intelligence services use diasporas
The main objective of Moscow in working with emigrants is to make American Russians or British Britons an instrument of soft power, putting pressure on the interests of Russia abroad.
In early November 2018, the British media reported that half of the Russian diaspora in the United Kingdom are informants from the Russian intelligence services (SVR, GRU and even the FSB). This sensationalist title was based on the misinterpretation of a report by Professor Andrew Foxall on the extent of Russian espionage. In fact, citing sources in the intelligence community, the report suggests more modest figures: around 500 officers led by 200 conservatives. But Russian migrants who spoke to Foxall suggested that every second compatriot could potentially turn out to work secretly for Russian intelligence.
Russian authorities have an effective way of putting pressure on emigrants if they have businesses or family in Russia. If a Russian returns home for a visit, FSB agents can ask him questions and he will not dare to answer them. According to the emigrants themselves, up to half of the Russians abroad are in such a risk zone. Recruiting people in this way has certain advantages. Western intelligence agencies cannot follow Russian intelligence contacts with visitors to Russia, so the Russians can do their jobs unnoticed for a long time by Western counterintelligence. These people are not on the state's payroll, so the risk of their exposure by defectors is minimized.
For example, in October 2013, the FBI accused a Russian diplomat and head of the Washington-based Russian Cultural Center, Yury Zaytsev, who recruits Americans as potential intelligence assets. The FBI alleged this part of Zaytsev's mission was to send young professionals from the United States to Russia as part of a cultural program in which participants are assessed and / or assessed for the purpose of Russian counterintelligence.
In 2014, Zaytsev left the United States, but his successor in the same position, Oleg Zhiganov, was deported of the United States for the same reason at the end of March 2018, as part of the group of 60 Russian diplomats accused of spying.
Another problem is that representatives of the Russian diasporas do not always voluntarily and knowingly accept to work for their former countries. Intelligence services in both countries often use deception and blackmail to obtain information from former fellow citizens.
The famous Soviet dissident, Boris Perchatkin claims, that he is aware of cases where KGB agents infiltrated religious organizations and then were sent abroad, where they received political asylum, insinuated themselves with real dissidents and have even created religious communities. He mentions several objectives that the KGB and its successor agents pursue when they infiltrate religious organizations in the United States.
Of course, this includes spying. The parishioners of the Protestant churches are not only old people, but also young people, students. They get an education here, get jobs, for example, at Boeing, and then, when they confess, the pastor gathers the necessary information from them or passes it on to others, says Boris Perchatkin.
How to help the diaspora
It is very difficult to determine how many people have been involved in cooperation with foreign intelligence services at different times. The most effective form of combating such a threat is prevention aimed at eliminating these psychological vulnerabilities in diaspora communities. For Russian immigrants, it is important to encourage the creation of cultural and educational initiatives independent of the Kremlin. Vladimir Putin's greatest fear is the emergence of an alternative culture created in Russian, but free from propaganda influence.
It is important to pay particular attention to the Russian-language media existing in the diaspora. The part of the Russian-speaking community that prefers to read the press in their mother tongue often exists in an information vacuum, which creates recruitment opportunities for structures affiliated with the Russian Embassy. It is also important to create programs that help emigrants to adjust to a new country, or at least help them cope with urgent problems.
Perhaps no less important is the creation of a special agency where victims of blackmail, threats and other aggressive forms of coercion by other countries can turn to. Not all emigrants are ready to deal with counterintelligence agencies, and many do not seek to help the victims, but use them only for their own ends and then leave them to face life threatening alone.
Emigrants should know that they have a place to turn to for help, including psychological help, which is no less necessary for people in prolonged stress.
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