Buying off agents of influence is a major task for Russian intelligence services abroad

Dmitrij Chmelnizki is a far famed historian, political writer, research writer about Russian agents of influence abroad. In 1987 he fled from the Soviet Union to Germany, since then he has been residing there. Dmitrij Chmelnizki is an author of non-fiction books, monographs, dozens of outstanding articles about the soviet and post-soviet society. His pieces of art have been published by French, German and Israel media.

Dmitrij Chmelnitsky (DC) with a good grace shared his beliefs with Cyprus Daily News (CDN) about the agents of influence, their shadow networks and organizations, the distinction between operation of agents of influence and espionage. In his interview below you are welcomed to learn about the «Russian world» perspective and features modern emigrants.

CDN: Based on your personal observations, is there any declining interest among Western society towards the subject of Russian agents of influence? If your answer is positive, please elaborate on reasons?

DC: I`m not certain whether there is a decline in interest. To put it mildly there was no much hustle about it before. By saying it I mean both and Western intelligence agencies. Since 2005 I have been analysing the subject of Russian agents of influence. The beggining of this long-lasting research started when my colleagues asked me to clarify them some information about a fake KGB «academy» rendering educational services in Germany.  The investigation proved this academy to be supervised by the KGB. Prima facie, it looked just like an ordinary institution. The case, being widely publicized in the German press, made Moscow to shutdown the academy.

Since then, I became deeply involved in studying the matter of Russian agents of influence and launched systematic research on this issue. It is clear that there was rapid increase of operation of Russian agents in 2014. Additionally to already existing intelligence bodies, dozens of new fictitious public organizations with headquarters in Moscow suddenly appeared around the world. At that period their main goal was propaganda and securing  safe for Russia messages in media about annexation of Crimea. Since then it`s growing snowball.

CDN: Maybe all has its date, could the practice end up by 2019?

DC: I don’t believe they changed their trade. The problem is that just very few people study this issue. I studied it personally and the result was a series of publications. Boris Reitschuster was engaged too, he published one or two books on this subject. There are some other individuals who systematically deal with this, but from another perspective. For example, ties of Putin`s regime with organized crime, money laundering, etc. I can`t refer to some other experts who systematically studied the activities of Putin’s agents of influence. Although, for sure, there should be some other writers. But the fact remains, articles publish once in a blue moon.

CDN: Discussing the issue of agents of influence became an ordinary subject which does not possess any security alerts. They say, there’s nothing to worry about, this can’t be true. What in your opinion is the reason for such beliefs?

DC: I think the prerequisite for such situation is an existing misunderstanding. Buying agents off for the Soviet intelligence services has been a major task since the beginning of the 20s. Then the  Joint State Political Directorate (OGPU, later the NKVD, stands for People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) was engaged in mass recruitment of Western politicians, writers, columnists, scholars, literally anyone who could influence people. The goal was to reshape Western public opinion in the favor of the Soviet Union and espionage. Thousands of individuals were recruited addressed people in the style of the novelist Romain Rolland, journalist James Aldridge, the «Cambridge Five». Well, Russian emigration in Europe was then an extremely favorable environment for the activities of agents of the OGPU-NKVD-KGB. Moreover, their connection was fit as a fiddle. Today the case is occurring, although under more successful conditions.

It is virtually impossible to draw a red line between the activities of agents of influence and spies. Let`s suppose an agent of influence has particular access to classified data if, e.g he is a politician or is involved in social activities at a high political level. Or an engineer, e.g an atomic physicist. Thanks to such people the technology of producing atomic bombs was stolen from the Americans for the benefit of the USSR. Moreover, these people were not spies in the literal sense of the word. They were agents of influence.

The same case people face now. Catching a person red-handed for espionage is hard project. This happens sometimes, but rarely. In order to secure a favourable case you need to catch a spy in the act of stealing or purchasing classified materials, trying to recruit a politician or scientist. There are only a few of them. Vice versa, the list of agents of influence enumerates hundreds of thousands of individuals but they do not violate any laws. Germany and Cyprus according to the volume of people from the USSR and Russia living there are blowed states with dozens shadow networks of agents of influence, each of which works for its own target group.

I have a rough list of organizations of this kind, E.g.the German-Russian Forum (Deutsch-Russisches Forum e.V.) was organised at the highest level. It is simply full of German agents of influence from political elites, starting with the ex-Prime Minister, Matthias Platzeck.

The project «Russian World» with its cultural organizations, is engaged in the patriotic treatment of Russian emigrants abroad, both the first generation and their children and grandchildren. There are organizations that cooperate with the right-wing German parties, small and large. From the other side, there are groups that work with left-wing German parties. Deriving from its nature some NGOs specifically focus on students. There are  associations of writers supervised from Russian embassies. There are numerous quasi-institutes and «academies» with international branches and specific management. There are quasi-human rights organizations too.

There are athletics organizations, i.e martial arts clubs with obvious Russian peculiarities invented by the senior officers of KGB or GRU. To be honest, there are a lot of them around the world. There are German associations of veterans of the Soviet-Russian and DDR special forces, e.g, paratroopers. There are foreign associations of former students of Soviet universities. Germany and many other countries have a registered MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations) alumni club. It is clear that foreigners who studied in the Soviet era at MGIMO could not help but be their allies for the KGB. Then they returned to their states as agents of intelligence. I don`t find that today the situation with foreign students of Russian universities is different.

There are special organizations uniting Russian scientists who fled their Motherland and found a free room for themselves in this world. It is clear that a professor at some large Western university who is offered a laboratory in Russia, where he conducts research on beneficial conditions and teaches graduate students two months a year, will have no secrets from Russian employers. There are also former agents residing in DDR who never broke off ties with Moscow and stopped their functioning. They are hidden behind business, as private detective agencies or security companies. It is possible to enumerate the types of such organizations for a very long time.

CDN:  What may you tell us about cultural organisations? Some artists find nothing that may jeopardise national security by attending events of cultural centers themselves. They say: They do not need us; we cannot be recruited. What for «Russian world» needs artists? What advantage their recruitment, in theory, may give to Moscow?

DC: Writing organizations are composed of writing people who are interested in somebody to finance their publications. If necessary, they will write what is needed, tell people what is ordered, participate in pro-Moscow congresses and conferences that are held in the West. The same story happens with artists. Any cultural event funded by Moscow has a sole goal: to get as much cooperation, acquaintances, contacts as possible and infiltrate the Western bodies. This is mainly an opportunity for recruitment.

Imagine, a variety of people come to the opening of an exhibition or presentation of an ordinary art event. And the politicians come too. This is another step deep into Western society. And creative people in vain think that they will not be recruited. They have already been recruited. Poor they. Because at that moment, they took the money and participated in this event, they are already safe for Russia. They will never oppose. This is such a form of recruitment, a successful way of influencing the Western and immigrant cultural environment. And here are the countless letters of protest, petition, which the creative intelligence, which is opposed to Putin, is now signing for various reasons, these people will not sign. This is recruitment.

CDN: Do you believe in the renaissance of the Soviet OGPU, the revival of the state`s political intelligence? Especially when they uncovered personal data of generals, recruited everyone good or bad and so on?

DC: Yes, I actually do. The 20s of the last century were the «golden age» for the operation of the OGPU in the West, because simply millions Russian emigrants lived there. And among them, the Soviet authorities felt like duck to water, they could recruit anyone, and for anything. Then it became unclear who was recruited and who was not. Then this case resolved itself, less people were involved as agents.

A brilliant author, Kyril Henkin, who wrote a book «The Russians Came» and «The Hunter Upside Down» is a former NKVD officer who fled to Israel. He firmly stated once that «Jewish emigration» in the late 60s and 70s was specifically authorized by the Soviet government. The goal was to create more favorable treatment towards the Soviet Union by means of intelligence abroad. It was rumored that about 50% of emigrants who had left formally for Israel gave a collaboration subscription before leaving. I left the USSR the same way and the whole story looks trustworthy.

CDN: Such people were easy catch for the KGB … 

DC:  Even those who did not agree to sign papers were also easy prey, because the traditional fear of the KGB does not disappear. In the modern world there are millions of emigrants from the former USSR and there is no «Iron Curtain», so the capabilities of the Moscow special services have sharply increased. The main thing is that under the guise of cultural societies, with the help of the «Russian world» promoting the Russian language according to Moscow programs, new generations of pro-Putin patriots are successfully brought up. Honestly, successfully. The recent mass demonstrations against the admission of migrants to Germany were attended mainly by the second generation of Russian emigrants, approximately from 30 to 40-year-olds who grew up in the West. Today they, tomorrow their successors will fill the movement.

CDN:  A vast number of Russians, former Soviet citizens who have moved to the West, to America or Canada, enjoy all the benefits of democratic countries, social guarantees, have jobs, real estate, afford children`s education at universities, but are still in love with Putin, love Russia, attend parades on 9 May and similar events. How you can explain this paradox?

DC: In my opinion, it is very easy to explain. 32 years ago I left the Soviet Union with the thought that finally I would live among normal people and I would forget this Soviet abomination and nastiness. But this muck caught up with me in the 2000s. It suddenly turned out to be unimaginably many Russia lovers in disguise in Germany.

And here is the explanation. Dissidents who fled the USSR because they did not like the Soviet regime are assessed in small numbers. They left mainly to improve their financial situation, to travel the world, earn money and so on. These were ordinary Soviet people who would have no other reason to leave the state if it were not for the opportunity to enjoy a better life.

Same story is happening right now. The emigrants who love Putin are not political emigrants; they do not understand why the Soviet Union is deemed a disaster. And they do not understand what is bad about modern Russia. They do not understand how democracies differ from what Moscow has. They are absolutely sure that everything is OK in Russia. They enjoy the benefits of a democratic system, not understanding what kind of system it is.

We were not taught this. The Soviet school was terrible. I think that the current Russian education is not much better. The set of democratic principles and views that is given in Western schools, we have not received. Units have come to this with their minds and sometimes it is very crooked. Thus emigrants are racists, nationalists, anti-democrats simply because of the traditional Soviet upbringing. What`s left, we all won`t miss an opportunity to live better. That’s all. In many cases, the Western school is simply not able to form stable imperative principles that are set by home education.

CDN: They are raising their children within the framework of the same traditions. How long does it take to influence a person totally? How many generations should be changed?

DC: I think three or four generations is enough. In fact, assimilation does not disappear. The second expatriate generation, as a rule, is Russian. It is reflected in their culture, mentality, and home language. The third generation is no longer the case, and the fourth will most likely be more or less normal, western in its mass. As it happened with the first Russian emigration of the 20s. The third generation was practically no longer Soviet or Russian. There is no way out of this system, we must work hard and wait. There is no other way. But you should fight.

CDN:  Are there any political parties in Europe organised or established by Russian speaking groups? Have you encountered such a phenomenon?

DC: Yes, there are many such parties. However, those were all rather unsuccessful attempts. E.g, in 2004 there was an attempt to establish the «Russian Party of Europe», which now exists in the form of the so-called social movement «European Russian Alliance». There was a stillborn «Party of New Europeans». In 1915, there was a pretty ridiculous attempt to create in Germany a party of Russian Germans called «Unity» («Die Einheit»). Its head was an explicit KGB agent, a Russian in Germany. I think all countries have served as grounds to launch parties, but it all failed. I would like to note that their strategic objective was to fill some offices at the European Parliament.

In Germany, there is a far more effective movement right now. It`s the extreme right-wing party Alternative for Germany (AdG). They received wide support from the emigrants. The party is pro-Russian, it is far-right, and party`s support among Russians is very large. The two Russian deputies who have a seat in the Bundestag are the racists from Alternative for Germany. AdG is now almost the third largest party in Germany and Moscow don`t waste its time to fund the movement. There are direct contacts between Moscow and party`s leaders. As well as the party «Left» («Die Linke»). In Germany, the new Russian party has no chance to gain a foothold, so they operate through friendly parties. In other states, where thousands of Russians permanently reside, approximately the same events happen.

CDN: How do Western intelligence services treat agents of influence, do they assess the potential level of threat? Let`s suppose some President negotiates with one one, two, three agents of influence not only on the President as an individual, but the whole state policy. Why do media access data abound foreign agents and their aims, but the security provide him «full acсess»?

DC: The German special services undoubtedly serve the needs of the state and work on the basis of government`s orders. Imagine, if the government does not order them to identify the Russian agents of influence, they hold back. In addition, their task is only to collect information. I agree, this is not the police. However, in Germany, special services cannot arrest anyone. They can only receive and collect data, they can talk with people who pose interest for them, but informally. The system should be the same in Cyprus, am I right? In is a small state where all concerned people are easily bribed, then the special services are powerless.

German service that is aimed at state security and the defense of the Constitution is relatively small in numbers. It is simply incompatible in figures with those whom it should fight. They fight mainly against those who may pose a physical danger and can be arrested. As a result is is effective for terrorists, organized crime, spies.

But as for agents of influence … They do not breach anything. Control and surveillance of them requires tremendous efforts, in the end, often counterintelligence fail to succeed. Moving from physical arrests to analysing, it seems that intelligence don’t do analytics, I don’t know the background.

CDN:  Media could be indeed helpful here …

DC:  Here, in Germany, I proved to myself that the media in many cases are more influential than intelligence agencies. As far as intelligence agencies collect information, transfer it to the government, but do not have the right to publish anything. Hence, sometimes they share some data with press. The media themselves begin to search further, conduct their own investigations. The possible method to undermine this system is to use media. Bearing in my experience, I may certainly say that German media achieved great success and inflicted heavy blows on the organizations of the Moscow special services, simply by leading their own investigations and shedding some light on the names of high-ranking agents of influence. That`s it.