Staunton, August 26 – As Moscow’s geopolitical isolation has increased, Dmitry Khmelnitsky says, the role of its agents of influence abroad and the enormously variegated organizations that recruit and direct them has increased far beyond what they were during the Cold War when anti-communism served as a constraint.
“The Russian network of agents of influence abroad is extraordinarily broad and differentiated,” the Ukrainian historian living in Germany says. “It consists of a multitude of organizations created and financed by Moscow and under social groups and simulating social, cultural and scholarly activity” ( ).
Some of these organizations are directed at the local communities; others at emigres from the USSR and Russia, “although sometimes both these tasks are addressed by one and the same organizations,” Khmelnitsky continues. But overwhelmingly, they are specialized and work “with the most varied political, ethnic, social, cultural and professional communities.”
“Their classification by itself is worthy of attention because under this format, the Russian special services work in all the countries of the world.” And in a lengthy article, Khmelnitsky presents an effort to classify these various groups in order to aid others in making sense of and then ultimately countering what Moscow is doing.
Since Vladimir Putin came to power, Moscow has created several major and many minor organizations to work with Russian and Soviet emigres. Among the most important are the International Council of Russian Compatriots (founded in 2002), the World Coordinating Council of Russian Compatriots Living Abroad (set up in 2007), the World Congress of Russian-Speaking Jewry (established in 2002) and the Russian World Foundation, a pass-through funding group which now operates more than 200 Russian centers around the world.
This list, of course, Khmelnitsky says, “is only the tip of the iceberg. There are also Moscow agencies which … are involved, beginning with Rossotrudnichestvo, a body that deals with CIS affairs, compatriots abroad and “international humanitarian cooperation. It was set up in 2008 as the successor to the Soviet VOKS which was created in 1958.
“In the USSR,” the commentator continues, “ties with abroad traditionally were within the competence of state security … In post-Soviet times, this situaiton hasn’t changed and therefore Rosstrudnichestvo if you will can be considered a bureaucratic subdivision of the FSB.”
It has 95 foreign representations, and in 62 countries, it operates 72 Russian centers of science and culture. “Besides propaganda work in the emigration, its tasks include attracting foreigners to study in Russia.”
“Immediately after Putin came to power, his government began to undertake a systematic and very successful effort at subordinating itself the mass media, both inside Russia and of Russian media abroad.” It bought existing outlets, like Russkaya mysl in Paris, transforming them from dissident outlets to pro-Kremlin mouthpieces and taking their archives to Moscow.
Indeed, today, there are few Russian media outlets outside Russia that are not loyal to the Kremlin. But in addition to subordinating to itself pre-existing newspapers and journals, Moscow has created a large number of new ones. Golos Germanii is typical. It publishes translations of Moscow articles and the writing of German agents of influence.
To coordinate all this activity, Moscow created in June 1999 the World Association of the Russian Press, a group that has held annual meetings throughout the world and sought to impose a common agenda on all Russian media regardless of where they are located, Khmelnitsky continues.
Another arrow in Moscow’s quiver in this regard is the Russian-Speaking Academic Science Association, a group set up to cover Moscow’s industrial espionage in the West but also an organization the Russian authorities use to identify potential agents of influence and to direct their activities.
And yet a third are the organizations the Russian special services have set up to work with targeted nations such as the Germans. Two years ago in Berlin was opened something called “The Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute,” a group headed by Vladimir Yakunin and supposedly independent, devoted to research and interested in international security.
“But all this generates great doubts,” Khmelnitsky says. “There is no basis for talking about its independence, its research or its commitment to international security. In fact, everything is exactly the reverse. This is just another specific organization dreamed up specially for work with German political and business circles” to promote Moscow’s interests.