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The FBI launched an investigation into the Russian diaspora organization in America

The FBI is investigating the activities of the American branch of the Russian diaspora. The investigation includes the questioning of dozens of people associated with the organization, as well as searches of homes and offices, reports Dailybeast.

Photo: Shutterstock

The Coordinating Council of Russian Compatriots of the United States (Coordinating Council of Russian Compatriots, colloquially known by its Russian acronym KSORS) is part of a network of organizations committed to advancing the interests of Russian speakers around the world. Some experts say the network is a source of soft power to advance the Kremlin's interests.

These kinds of diaspora networks “serve to strengthen ties between the diasporas and the homeland – this is their main function,” said George Washington University professor Marlene Laruelle.

“And to a lesser extent, they create citizen groups that can promote some Russian narratives adapted to each local context, but this function does not work well,” she added.

One source said the investigation included "many meetings and many questions with community members across the country." According to two people interviewed by the FBI in 2020, the questions suggested an interest in how the FBI manages its funds.

“The agents were polite, friendly,” said one Russian interviewed by the FBI. - A lot of people were interviewed. I don't know the exact amount, but a lot. From different states."

Another FBI interviewee told a similar story: “Yes! The FBI came to me. But it wasn't very serious. They did not take a translator and we used Google. It was fun."

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The source continued, “The questions were formal. Because they were not interested in anything other than the financial side of the KSORS. But I interacted very little with XORS and knew nothing. I didn't receive any money. And I don't believe there was a lot of money there."

Critics among the Russian-speaking diasporas in the United States argue that the KSORS became increasingly hostile amid the escalation of tensions during the Russian occupation of Crimea.

Former KSOR Chairman Igor Baboshkin said that after being unanimously re-elected as chairman, he was unceremoniously removed from his position after refusing to sign a statement in support of the Russian occupation of Crimea.

“In 2014, when I left this organization, the Russian embassy took over and put in other people who agreed to support Russia as a fifth column,” Baboshkin noted, using the term for a subversive, clandestine foreign network. “They organized a fifth column of people ready to work with the Russian embassy.”

These coordinating councils direct resources to cultural initiatives that protect Russian history and understanding among peoples, but the line between relaxing cultural celebrations and advancing the political agenda can be very thin, said Ksenia Kirilova, an analyst at the Jamestown Foundation.

“The most difficult thing here is to distinguish where the “innocent” events dedicated to the popularization of Russian literature, the language, the celebration of dates from the common history of peoples, etc. end, and the destructive “information operations” begin,” Kirilova explained.

Of particular concern to some members of the Russian-speaking community were the camps that appeared in the United States to celebrate the military aspects of Soviet history. Footage from a 2017 camp co-organized with current KSORS member Igor Kochan shows men in Soviet military uniforms and blue NKVD-style caps lining up for a gun salute. The camp gathered to pay tribute to the "Immortal Regiment" in memory of those who died fighting the Nazis in World War II.

Footage from another camp outside of Sacramento shows children marching and receiving firearms training.

Anton Konev, a member of the KSORS, said that the camps simply included "reenactments of the Civil War and reenactments of World War II." According to him, the Soviet theme is "a part of history" and not an ideological obligation.

Konev also disputed Baboshkin's claims, insisting that the latter was removed as a result of the election and not the embassy's actions.

In 2018, the FBI sent investigators to Seattle to question activists organizing Immortal Regiment events about the financial accounts and transactions surrounding the movement, as well as the groups involved.

Konev denied any FBI investigation of the KSOR, calling such statements "yellow journalism."

The central figure in the 2018 investigation, current CCORS member Sergei Gladysh, said: “I can say that the FBI has been regularly visiting people from the Russian-American community for many years ... even well before 2018. However, I have not heard of anyone being detained or charged with any offence.”

Gladysh confirmed that he is currently in Russia on business. Another KSORS member, Anna Vernaya, said that she is currently also in Russia, but will return to the US later this year. Konev said that the current chairman of the CCORC, Elena Branson and Igor Kochan, are also in Russia on family matters.

Elena Branson is listed by the KSOR as President of the Russian Center in New York. The organization's headquarters in a one-bedroom Manhattan apartment on Central Park West was sold in late March for just under a million dollars. Branson, Kochan, and other members of the 10-member board of the RCFA either did not respond to email inquiries or declined to comment.

On May 25, Kremlin-linked political analyst Sergei Markov posted a photograph of himself showing a table with a seating card that read “Igor Kochan.” Markov’s post in Russian says: “More and more people who previously went abroad are returning to Russia,” citing “the economy, the pandemic, the destruction of the European way of life there” and “a new type of political repression” as reasons.

You may be interested in: top New York news, stories of our immigrants, and helpful tips about life in the Big Apple - read it all on ForumDaily New York.

The FBI declined to comment "in line with our usual policy of not confirming or denying an investigation."

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