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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russia Update: October 12, 2016

Publication: Russia Update
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Sources Say Kremlin Urges Officials to Bring Children Home from Abroad; Spokesman Denies

The Kremlin has issued an advisory to Russian officials to the highest level to bring their children studying abroad home to Russia due to growing international tensions, the independent media site reported.

But spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that he "had not seen or heard" such a directive, TASS reported.

A number of sources told Znak that the advisory affects officials ranging from those in the presidential administration in Moscow to regional administrations and deputies of the national and local legislatures.

Officials were told not to wait until the end of the semester, but to transfer their children to Russian universities immediately. If they had elderly relatives abroad, they should return as well.

According to one source, officials were also urged not to delay bringing their relatives home, as there were "well-known cases when the presence of close relatives of the younger or older generation abroad became a factor complicating a future career in the state sector." He said he knew of several such cases.

Russian bloggers have had a field day in recent years reporting on officials who proclaim their patriotism on TV but send their children abroad to study.

In 2012, anti-corruption campaigner Alexey Navalny published information about the three daughters of Sergei Zheleznyak, a prominent member of United Russia in the State Duma. In 2013, Navalny exposed the fact that the children of Vladimir Yakunin, then head of Russian Railways, a close associate of President Vladimir Putin known for his patriotism, lived in foreign luxury homes.

Yelena Mizulina, a staunch conservative in the State Duma has a son who went abroad to study and remained. But now that he is an adult, she couldn't bring him home anyway.

Pavel Astakhov, the former child rights ombudsmen, has a son who is abroad whose own child was born in France. The "European orientation" of Astakhov's family was a factor in his dismissal, along with the many scandals, a source told Znak.

Political analyst Vitaly Ivanov said the recommendation to bring home relatives had "long matured and was even overripe." The presence of children abroad has increasingly been a factor making Russian officials vulnerable to criticism for hypocrisy if they promote patriotism and cultivate anti-Western sentiments.

'You can't serve two gods, you have to choose. If this measure is initiated and implemented, this will bring consistency and certitude that is lacking," he said.

Another analyst, Stanislav Belkovsky, thinks such a directive will have the opposite effect and push people away from the administration. But ever since 2014, when a number of officials were virtually blocked from travel as sanctions were applied, certain categories of officials, notably policemen, have not been allowed to go abroad. Belkovsky said Putin could copy the position of Turkish President Recep Erdogan, who blocked scholars from travel after the coup. The West's sanctions were designed to drive a wedge between Putin and his close associates, and now the Kremlin has begun to operate with the logic of these sanctions, he said.

Of course, Putin could also merely revert to the Soviet practice that made travel abroad an exception to be granted only to loyal elites. But as Belkovsky has pointed out, Russian officials have come to expect that they can seek superior health care and education abroad not only as a privilege but as a survival strategy.

Viktor Pinsky, first deputy of the United Russia faction in the State Duma, said he had not heard of such an directive, TASS reported.

A source in the Soviet Federation staff said they had not seen it either.

The pro-Kremlin news site Vzglyad also said the story could not be confirmed but acknowledged that there had been a general trend to "nationalize" the elite and vet new cadres in government positions by checking to see if they had relatives abroad. It is expected of loyal bureaucrats that they will avoid such vulnerabilities if they want to have a government career. 

The British Daily Star picked up the story citing "local media" and linked the measure to civil defense drills involving 40 million Russians and Putin's cancellation of a trip to France when President Francois Hollande said he wanted to discuss Syria. The Daily Mail cited the Daily Star, adding that Russia had recently moved nuclear-capable Iskander missiles to the border in Kaliningrad.

The story gained credence as there have been warnings in the past alerting Russians to the danger abroad. 

On September 30, the Russian Foreign Ministry warned all Russians abroad that they could face threats in connection with "calls from a number of organizations, including Islamic" in connection with the "World Day of Rage and Protest" to protest the war in Syria.

It's not clear what "Day of Rage" the Russian Foreign Ministry is referencing; in fact demonstrations against the war in Syria have not been very widespread in the West.  Snopes has debunked overcautious messages of a supposed "Day of Rage" in July, but that was related to the issue of police killings, not Syria.

September 30 was the one-year anniversary of the start of Russia's bombing campaign in Syria. Sergei Ryabkov, deputy foreign minister claimed then that the US was "supporting terrorists" and was threatening measures "outside of the diplomatic field." He said a statement by State Department spokesman John Kirby that terrorist attacks might occur in Russian cities was an American threat, not an assessment of the general situation, a theme promoted by Russian propaganda outlets.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick