At least in part because the Bolsheviks came out of emigration to take power, Moscow has long viewed emigres as far more important than do most other governments, treating them as groups to be subverted, communities from which to recruit active agents, and tools to influence the countries in which they live, Dmytro Khmelnytskyi says.
In the last two decades, the Moscow analyst continues, the Russian special services have stepped up their efforts to make use of Russian emigres because there are so many more of them than there were earlier, the new emigres are not as anti-Moscow as were earlier waves, and the Kremlin hopes to use them as agents of influence.
Moscow’s use of Russian emigres has been especially noteworthy in Germany, and in October, the All-German Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots marked its tenth anniversary. That organization is the German branch of the Worldwide Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots Living Abroad.
And that Moscow-based organization in turn is the executive organ of the Worldwide Congress of Russian Compatriots, which was established in 2007 to link the compatriots to “the organs of state power of the Russian Federation and the organs of state power of the subjects of the Russian Federation,” according to its website.
“In other words,” Khmelnytskyi says, “the Worldwide Congress … was established soon after Putin’s coming to power as a broad apparatus for the political recruitment of Russian emigres of the entire world with a center in Moscow. The first such congress occurred in 2001; there have been five since that time.
As its leaders have made clear, this group is intended to generate support for Putin and Putin’s policies and to oppose those who oppose these policies in the public sphere and on the Internet. In Germany, this group has branches in most of the länders (states), and has its own propaganda site, Russkoye pole, almost entirely financed by Moscow.
It is clear from its programmatic documents, the Moscow commentator says, that “the Congress of Compatriots was initially thought out to be part of the Russian state apparatus,” to support the Russian state rather than simply promote the communal interests of ethnic Russians or Russian speakers.
The group has occasionally gotten in trouble by promoting false stories like one in January 2015 when it circulated one claiming falsely that a German girl had been raped by Muslim migrants. But it puts out so many stories that clearly not all of them are checked by all who read them.
A partner organization of the Coordination Council is the German-Russian Forum, an organization that is “really influential.” Its members include former federal and lander officials and “a multitude of Russian agents of influence” among Germans. It openly participates in the propaganda operations of the Russian special services.
The activities of these groups, Khmelnytskyi says, represent “efforts at the destabilization of the internal situation in democratic countries with the help of propaganda” spread both by Russian emigres and agents of influence from within the population of the host countries. Ever more countries, he suggests, face this problem.
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