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' (www.ia-centr.ru/expert/4293/).
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's 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."
Window on Eurasia: Moscow Hopes to Use Russian Diasporas to Influence Other Countries