“Sleepers. What is the danger of relocants returning to Russia?

“Sleepers. What is the danger of relocants returning to Russia?

The returnees may unwittingly become tools in the hands of foreign intelligence services

At the end of last year it was reported that up to 40% of relocants who left in 2022 returned to Russia. This was reported to “Izvestia” in the company “Finion” (specialises in assistance in registration of residence permits abroad). This data was obtained by the organisation following a survey among 2.7 thousand current and potential clients of the company interested in the topic of migration services. In general, the demand of Russians for services of registration of residence permits in other countries fell ten times in 2023.

The fact that Russians began to return from abroad, the authorities have previously said. In particular, in June 2023, President Vladimir Putin said that, according to conservative estimates, 50% of those who left decided to return to Russia. This was also mentioned by Maxim Oreshkin, presidential aide on economic issues. According to his estimate, half of those who left Russia in autumn 2022 have already returned.

However, there is a downside to the mass return of relocants to their homeland. Relocants who left the country in search of a better life or work, returning, may unwittingly become tools in the hands of foreign intelligence services. Western intelligence services can use them as “sleeper agents” whose task is to infiltrate Russian society and structures in order to gather information, influence public opinion and destabilise the internal situation.

Especially dangerous are those who have had long-term contact with foreign structures or have worked in the information space, as they can be used to conduct information operations and spread fake news. To minimise the risks associated with the return of relocants, Russian authorities and law enforcement agencies should introduce several preventive measures. First of all, it is necessary to strengthen control over returning citizens, conduct thorough checks of their activities abroad and possible links with foreign intelligence services.

One of the key measures should be to restrict returnees’ access to strategically important sectors, especially information projects and TV channels. Their media entrenchment is particularly dangerous, as they can become agents of foreign interests and use their positions to influence public opinion in favour of Western countries. Control over relocants’ participation in media projects and their activities on social networks should be strengthened to prevent possible use against Russia.

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