In This Review

The Compatriots: The Brutal and Chaotic History of Russia’s Exiles, Émigrés, and Agents Abroad
The Compatriots: The Brutal and Chaotic History of Russia’s Exiles, Émigrés, and Agents Abroad
By Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan
PublicAffairs, 2019, 384 pp
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The early Soviet government sent its agents abroad to trace and murder Russian political fugitives, including prominent figures of the anti-Bolshevik White movement defeated in the civil war and revolutionaries who fell afoul of the Bolsheviks—most notably Leon Trotsky, who was killed in Mexico City in 1940. But some émigrés served Soviet interests. For instance, many Russian Jews who had fled pogroms in tsarist Russia often sympathized with communist ideas and were easily recruited to become Soviet spies. The authors, both journalists, draw on historical material and their own extensive reporting to show how governments in Moscow from the early Bolsheviks to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin have treated Russian emigration as both a threat and an opportunity. They chronicle Putin’s efforts to build a patriotic diaspora that would advance his government’s interests in the West. Political émigrés who engage in anti-Kremlin lobbying abroad, the authors argue, may risk an attack on their lives, similar to the earlier Bolshevik ones. The authors’ emphasis on the sinister continuity of the methods used by the Russian secret police may seem a bit overdone, but the poisoning (less than a year after the book’s publication) of the Kremlin’s most vocal and fearless critic, Alexei Navalny, provides strong backing for their argument.