Saturday, September 10, 2022

Émigré Anti-Putin Opposition at Risk of Becoming the Victim of New Trust Operation, Savvin Warns

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 8 – Many who oppose Putin and what he is doing have taken heart by evidence that a militant anti-Putin movement is taking shape inside Russia with the blowing up of draft centers and sabotage on rail lines and they have been even more encouraged by the appearance of someone in Ukraine who appears to represent these groups.

            Indeed, they have been even more pleased by the appearance of Ilya Ponomaryov, a Russian émigré in Ukraine who claims to represent the Russian Republic Army and seeks the support of all those opposed to the Putin regime. The desire of such people to do so is understandable but it contains a danger many aren’t focusing on.

            Dimitry Savvin, who edits the conservative Russian Harbin portal which is based in Riga, says that the situation in the current Russian political emigration reminds him of “a bad remake of émigré history in the 1920s and 1930s” and that should be cause of alarm, especially in this particular case (

            That those who oppose Putin must support a genuine underground in Russia committed to the same thing is axiomatic, he argues. But it must be sure that it is supporting a genuine one and not one created by the intelligence services of its opponent to disarm and destroy the chances for genuine change.

            The risks that the FSB and other Russian government agencies could organize such simulacra are all too real, Savvin says, given that Moscow has done that before and increasingly adopts policies taken from the Soviet past especially in areas where the intelligence agencies are so dominant.

            Savvin says that the risk that Moscow will launch a new “Operation Trust” are thus all too real. And because that is the case, he urges a cautious approach until far more questions are answered to cooperating with groups inside Russia who supposedly are fighting against Putin and even more against those in emigration who claim to be part of such groups.

            The Trust operation was once well-known in the West but now many have forgotten. It was set up by the Cheka as a supposed anti-Soviet underground that reached out to leaders of the Russian emigration seeking both their support and their agreement to subordinate their tactics to the decisions of the group code named “Trust” inside Russia.

            Only those on the scene could know when and how to strike Soviet power, the Trust operatives said, an argument that seemed reasonable to many in the Russian emigration in the early 1920s but one that had the effect to dividing the emigration further and preventing it from operating effectively.

            (For background on this murky operation, how it was used, and how it ultimately was exposed by the Soviets themselves to discredit the emigration, see Pamela K. Simpkins and K. Leigh Dyer, The Trust (Washington, 1989), Gordon Brook-Shepherd, Iron Maze. The Western Secret Services and the Bolsheviks (London, 1998) and Sergey Voytsekhovsky, Trest (in Russian; London, Ontario, 1974).)

            A genuine anti-Putin underground may be emerging in Russia, Savvin says; indeed, he very much hopes it is. But before deciding whether to work with what is being presented as such, far more needs to be known lest the current Russian emigration fall into the very same trap the first emigration fell into a century ago.


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