Window on Eurasia: Moscow Hopes to Use Russian Diasporas to Influence Other Countries

Paul Goble
April 7, 2009

Vienna, April 5 – Moscow hopes to use all those who trace
their ancestry to Russia but who are now living abroad as its allies
in its efforts to influence the peoples and governments of the
countries in which such “compatriots” are now living, according to a
senior Russian foreign ministry official.

Last week, Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told
the Federation Council’s Council on Questions of Support of
Compatriots that Moscow wants to convert “the Russian diaspora into a
positive factory of inter-state relations of Russia with foreign
countries and [form] a global [non-ethnic] Russian ethno-cultural
field” (

The Russian foreign ministry, he said, seeks “the creation
of a firm structure of Russian communities and organizations of
compatriots.” To that end, it supported 65 country-specific and seven
regional conferences of compatriots in 2007 and 78 country-specific
and eight regional conferences in 2008.

Such meetings, which will culminate in the next world
conference of such bodies in December of this year, Karasin continued,
not only allows Moscow to have a better idea about the concerns and
attitudes of the diasporas but also helps “in a consolidated fashion
to define [for these groups] common interests and tasks.”

In addition, the deputy foreign minister said, Russian
embassies and other agencies abroad are actively involved in
supporting the Russian World Foundation and in providing compatriots
with special information support via special publications and Internet
sites, including one journal each for the Baltic States, Central Asia,
and the “Far Abroad.”

According to Karasin, the staffs of Russian embassies and
consulates general are involved with the diasporas “practically
everywhere where there is a significant Russian community” and
distribute “significant financial means” for the support of the
activities of various compatriot organizations.

Among these efforts, he continued, a particularly
important place concerns the development of links between regions and
nationalities inside the Russian Federation with groups abroad linked
to them, including not just the two capitals but also Tatarstan and
although Karasin did not mention it in this presentation Circassian
regions as well.

Such programs are extremely effective, he said, but
stressed that “it is important that the regions closely coordinate
their work with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs within the
framework” of the Russian government’s program for work with
compatriot groups, a remark that may indicate some problems between
Russian and non-Russian groups.

Moscow has ramped up its financial support for the support
of what Karasin and other officials say are approximately 30 million
compatriots. In 2000, it spent 50 million rubles (2 million US
dollars). Last year, it spent 407 million rubles (12 million US
dollars). Unfortunately, because of the crisis, Karasin said, that
figure will fall 10 to 15 percent this year.

But for work with compatriots to go forward, he added, the
Russian legislature needs to amend the 1999 law on compatriots in two
important ways. On the one hand, he suggested, a new edition of the
law should introduce a better definition of just who is a compatriot
and who is not. And on the other, it should drop some bureaucratic
elements of the current legislation.

The existing law defines as a compatriot any person who
was a citizen of the USSR and/or its previous state formations. But,
as Karasin points out, “this does not completely correspond to
present-day realities and thus in practice makes work directed at
compatriots more difficult.”

Karasin said “compatriot” should be expanded include not
only citizens of Russia living abroad who are that by definition but
also to include “persons living beyond the borders of Russia who have
made a fee choice in favor of a spiritual and cultural tie with Russia
and, as a rule, are related to nationalities which have historically
lived on the territory of Russia.”

And he suggested that the provision in the 1999 law
suggesting that Russian compatriots be given a special document should
be eliminated. Efforts to provide such documents frequently infuriate
foreign governments and thus are not only a waste of resources but
counterproductive in the extreme. Rather than worry about that,
Moscow should assist these people in other ways.

(Karasin’s comments on this point are intriguing given his
own ministry’s continuing effort to hand out Russian passports to
people in the former Soviet republics – it has given out more than 2.5
million so far – without taking into account the laws of these
countries or the attitudes of their populations about this practice.)

He concluded his remarks with the following words: “The
consolidation of the Russian world abroad and its conversion into an
influential and authoritative form of ‘soft power’ will give
compatriots the opportunity to more effectively defend their
ethno-cultural interests and lead to a qualitatively new level of ties
between them and their historical Motherland.”