Moscow’s efforts to recruit spies perhaps not surprisingly has always attracted more attention than its work to recruit agents of influence, Dmytro Khmelnytskyi says; but there are only a relative handful of the former while there are “hundreds of thousands” of the latter.
Although the latter typically violate no laws, the specialist on this form of Russian activity abroad who emigrated in 1987 and now lives in Germany, they play an ever important part of Moscow’s activities abroad.
In an interview with Cyprus Daily News, Khmelnytskyi focuses on Moscow’s efforts to use members of the Russian diaspora in this way. He says that in many ways, including the enormous number of Russians now living outside their homeland, this has become a second “golden age” for such recruitments, the first being of course the 1920s.
The investigator says that the foundations for the current Russian efforts in this regard were laid in the 1960s and 1970s when Moscow allowed thousands of Soviet Jews to emigrate, ostensibly to Israel but often to other countries. Its goal was “to create in the West a milieu favorable for the activity of Soviet intelligence.”
“Rumors circulated that about 50 percent of [these] émigré who left formally for Israel signed agreements on cooperation before departing. I myself left the USSR in this way and am ready to believe this,” Khmelnytskyi continues. Now, Moscow’s opportunities in this regard are much greater.
According to Khmelnytskyi, before 1991, “these were ordinary Soviet people who had no other motives to leave the country had there not appeared the opportunity to live better.” The same thing is true today. Russians who have emigrated for material gain, “who love Putin, are not political emigres.”
“They do not understand how the Soviet Union was bad, and they do not understand in what ways Russia today is. They are absolutely certain that everything in Russia is normal. They use the benefits of a democratic system but they do not have an understanding of the nature of that system.”
This is a reflection of the nature of Soviet education in the past and of Russian education now, Khmelnytskyi says. And because of its shortcomings, “the main mass of emigres alas are racists, nationalists and anti-democratic simply as a result of traditional Soviet upbringing.” They haven’t given up those notions when they leave.
Germany’s special services do follow these groups, but the services are too small and the government too disinterested to do much good. Often, Khmelnytskyi says, the most useful way to expose Moscow’s use of Russians living abroad as agents of influence is through the media. There have been several cases of success in that regard, he concludes.