Friday, 03 April 2020 19:00
Estonian Life No. 13 2020 - Laas Leivat
In 2018 it was startling to read British media reports that half of the Russian diaspora in the UK were informers for Russian intelligence agencies. This spectacular news was however a misinterpretation of a scholarly article of the scale of Russian espionage.
British intelligence sources have leaked a different statistic, a substantially lower number – some 500 agents with about 200 contact individuals. But this again is in sharp contrast with suggestions coming directly from the Russian community members, that every second ex-pat could be at least a potential contact for Russian intelligence services.
Recruitment of possible informers/agents among ex-pats mostly occurs during their visits to Russia. Its very inevitable that the Russian FSB would eventually contact an individual visitor and use pressure to gain co-operation. It’s not likely that Russians from the diaspora would take the initiative and volunteer to work for the FSB, GRU or SVR. But deception and various forms of coercion are the common methods of recruitment, everywhere.
We are reminded that all of the Russian spies that have been exposed in the Estonian military and security services were recruited while visiting Russia. Now there are security restrictions on Estonian federal employees intending to visit Russia.
Recruiting anybody while they are within the recruiter’s jurisdiction definitely has some advantages. For Western intelligence it’s practically impossible to identify these contacts. The recruiters do not need unobtrusive methods to make contact and their work is undetected. The recruiters are not on official government lists, like pay-rolls, so that defectors to the West usually cannot disclose their identities.
In 2013 Russian diplomats with immunity from arrest and prosecution in the US were exposed for attempting to recruit young Russian ex-pats through the Russian Cultural Centre as assets for Russian intelligence. The diplomats were promoting visits as part of an ostensible cultural program. However the program was meant to identify possible recruits willing and able to co-operate in Russia’s counter-intelligence capability.
It’s known that their intelligence agencies have infiltrated religious groups in Russia with operatives who were then sent abroad where the operative gained political asylum for being persecuted as a Russian religious dissident. They then are welcomed to join authentic religious dissidents in the US or are even able to establish such organizations themselves.
Some members of such Russian heritage groups, who had received US education and had built a career at high-tech companies with defense contracts were unwittingly used to gain classified military information. Classical espionage recruitment, much beyond winning the co-operation of informers.
In Canada it’s apparent that many local organizations with Russian ex-pat membership seem to support policies held by the Kremlin. Some polls over the years have even shown that Putin’s popularity abroad among Russians is higher than in Russia.
Members of Russian Orthodox congregations in Toronto, for instance have indicated that different churches with their clergy tend to be Kremlin friendly, while others don’t take any position or are outright opposed to Putin’s ever-increasing readiness to repress political opposition. While this is evident from web-sites, and Russian-language newspapers in Canada, it’s still difficult to determine how many Russians have been involved in co-operating Russian intelligence services.
Observers say that Russian secret services recognize the vulnerabilities in the diaspora communities. One of these ‘soft spots’ is the dependency Russian ex-pat groups have for cultural sustenance. Independent educational and cultural organizations, that do not rely on Moscow, its embassies and consulates for support are obviously not attractive penetration targets for Russia as those with that have a relationship of support from Moscow. Vulnerability is not the only consequence, it’s also the ‘we lead, you follow’ alliance that likely results.
Even though major Canadian-Russian organizations insist that their May 9th Victory Day celebrations are financed independently, all indications point to substantial support from the Russian foreign service itself.
Without this need for outside assistance, perhaps the Victory Day organizers could emphasize the true meaning of May 9th – a time for remembering their fallen veterans and millions of other victims of WWI, and of course the victory over Nazi Germany.
But Moscow is intent on promoting the day as one of ‘Liberation’ for Central and Eastern Europe. This is the message with which dependent diaspora groups are complicit. They are partners in rejecting the truth – that for these countries, the Nazi totalitarian regime was replaced with a repressive Soviet power, whose brutality, by sheer volume of atrocities alone, surpassed the Nazis.
Laas Leivat, Toronto