The Compatriots

The Brutal and Chaotic History of Russia's Exiles, Émigrés, and Agents Abroad


By Andrei Soldatov

By Irina Borogan

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The authors of The Red Web examine the shifting role of Russian expatriates throughout history, and their complicated, unbreakable relationship with the mother country–be it antagonistic or far too chummy.

The history of Russian espionage is soaked in blood, from a spontaneous pistol shot that killed a secret policeman in Romania in 1924 to the attempt to poison an exiled KGB colonel in Salisbury, England, in 2017. Russian émigrés have found themselves continually at the center of the mayhem.

Russians began leaving the country in big numbers in the late nineteenth century, fleeing pogroms, tsarist secret police persecution, and the Revolution, then Stalin and the KGB–and creating the third-largest diaspora in the world. The exodus created a rare opportunity for the Kremlin. Moscow’s masters and spymasters fostered networks of spies, many of whom were emigrants driven from Russia. By the 1930s and 1940s, dozens of spies were in New York City gathering information for Moscow.

But the story did not end with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Some émigrés have turned into assets of the resurgent Russian nationalist state, while others have taken up the dissident challenge once more–at their personal peril. From Trotsky to Litvinenko, The Compatriots is the gripping history of Russian score-settling around the world.


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• 1920—INO (Inostranny Otdel; Foreign Department) at Cheka (the All Russian Extraordinary Commission, known as the Soviet secret police, established in 1917)

• 1922—INO at GPU (Glavnoye Politicheskoye Upravlenie; Chief Political Department) and then at OGPU (Obyedinyonnoye Gosudarstvennoye Politicheskoye Upravleniye; Joint State Political Department)

• 1930—Administration for Special Tasks at INO of OGPU and the Fifth Section at INO (emigration)

• 1934—INO, renamed in 1939 into the Fifth Department at NKVD (Narodny Kommisariat Vnutrennikh Del; People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs)

• 1941—First Directorate at NKGB (Narodny Kommisariat Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti; People’s Commissariat of State Security)

• 1945—Ninth Section (Emigration) at First Directorate at NKGB

• 1946—Section 10-A (Emigration) at the First Directorate of the MGB (Ministerstvo Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti; Ministry of State Security)

• 1947—Section EM at KI (Komitet Informatsii; Information Committee)

• 1949—Third Section at First Directorate (External Counterintelligence) of the MGB

• 1951—Third Section at First Chief Directorate (Foreign Intelligence) of the MGB

• 1953—Ninth and then Fifth Section (External Counterintelligence) at the Second Chief Directorate of the MVD (Ministerstvo Vnutrennikh Del; Interior Ministry)

• 1954—Ninth Section within the First Chief Directorate (Foreign Intelligence) of the KGB

• 1963—Second Service (External Counterintelligence) of the First Chief Directorate of the KGB

• 1974—Department K (External Counterintelligence) of the First Chief Directorate of the KGB. The Fourth Section of Department K was specifically tasked to deal with the émigré organizations.

• 1975—Nineteenth Section within the First Chief Directorate of the KGB

• 1991—SVR (Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki; Foreign Intelligence Service or External Intelligence)

• 1992—GRU (Glavnoye Razvedivatelnoe Upravlenie–GRU VS Rossii; military intelligence agency known as the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia)

• 1995—FSB (Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti; Federal Security Service)



Joseph Stalin

Leonid Brezhnev

Richard Nixon

Mikhail Gorbachev

Boris Yeltsin

Vladimir Putin


Vasily Zarubin, chief of station in the United States

Mikhail Trilisser, head of the Foreign Intelligence Department (INO)

Nahum Eitingon, chief operative in charge of high-profile assassinations

Liza Gorskaya, operative; Zarubin’s third wife

Yakov Blyumkin, operative, head of illegal station in Istanbul

Jacob Golos, head of Soviet spy ring in New York

Earl Browder, chairman of Communist Party in the United States

George Koval, “illegal” in New York

Caridad Mercader and Ramon Mercader, Eitingon’s assets


Yuri Andropov, chairman

Vladimir Kryuchkov, head of the foreign intelligence branch—the First Chief Directorate—and later chairman

Leonid Shebarshin, head of the First Chief Directorate

Alexander Vassiliev, KGB operative, journalist, and later historian

Yuri Sagaidak, KGB operative, journalist, and later financier


Evgeny Primakov, head of SVR Foreign Intelligence agency

Yuri Kobaladze, SVR’s head of public relations

Alexander Litvinenko, FSB officer, refugee in London, and author


Sergei Naryshkin, head of SVR Foreign Intelligence agency

Sergei Tretyakov, SVR deputy head of station in New York

Anna Chapman, SVR agent in the United States (New York)

Mikhail Semenko, SVR agent in the United States (Washington, DC)

Evgeny Buryakov, SVR operative, New York station


Zoya Zarubina, spy and translator; daughter of Vasily Zarubin and stepdaughter of Nahum Eitingon

Alexei Kozlov, financier, inmate, activist, and Russian-German businessman; grandson of Zoya Zarubina

Olga Romanova, journalist and head of Russia Behind Bars; wife of Alexei Kozlov


Vladimir Kara-Murza (senior), journalist and NTV news anchor

Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr., journalist and politician; son of Vladimir Kara-Murza

Zhenya Kara-Murza, wife of Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr.


George Kennan, diplomat, historian, and author of the “containment” policy

Henry Kissinger, secretary of state

Louis Fischer, journalist

George Fischer, author and researcher; son of Louis Fischer

Bert Jolis, Office of Strategic Service veteran, diamond trader, and fund-raiser for Resistance International

Bill Browder, investor, anti-Kremlin campaigner; grandson of Earl Browder


Boris Nemtsov, Yeltsin’s vice prime minister and politician

Vadim Prokhorov, lawyer to Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr.; no relation to Mikhail Prokhorov


Leon Trotsky, founder of the Red army and Stalin’s archenemy in exile

Svetlana Alliluyeva, Stalin’s daughter and writer

Mikhail Baryshnikov, dancer

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, soldier, prisoner, and writer

Natasha Gurfinkel, senior vice president of Bank of New York

Vladimir Galitzine, aristocrat and vice president of Bank of New York

Lucy Edwards, vice president of Bank of New York

Vladimir Bukovsky, dissident and founder of Resistance International

Mikhail Tolstoy, member of parliament and organizer of the First Congress of Compatriots

Alexei Jordan, aristocrat, financier, and leader of the United Russian Cadet Corps in the United States

Boris Jordan, financier and media manager; son of Alexei Jordan

Peter Holodny, priest, financier, and treasurer of the White Church

Masha Gessen, journalist, author, and LGBTQ activist

Masha Slonim, journalist and granddaughter of Stalin’s foreign minister

Ilya Zaslavskiy, oil company manager and activist at Free Russia Foundation

Garry Kasparov, chess champion and opposition activist


Boris Berezovsky, go-between and go-getter, and former ally of Putin exiled to London

Vladimir Gusinsky, media magnate and founder of NTV and Russian Television International; in exile

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, oil tycoon, prisoner, and leader of Open Russia movement; in exile

Alexander Lebedev, KGB officer in London, banker, and media magnate in Russia and the United Kingdom

Mikhail Prokhorov, nickel tycoon, owner of the Brooklyn Nets, media magnate, and owner of Snob (Global Russians club)

“There is no business like it. We are politicians. We are soldiers. And, above all, we are actors on a wonderful stage.”

a chief of the Nineteenth Section of the KGB, in charge of recruiting agents in the Russian émigré communities in the West

“A strong diaspora can only exist if there is a strong state.”

president of Russia, former colonel of the KGB


Toward the end of December 2017, a skinny, young Russian with expressive eyes, a stubbly beard, and a slight limp walked into a coffee shop in downtown Washington, DC. His name was Vladimir Kara-Murza (junior), and he was a Russian political émigré and anti-Kremlin lobbyist. He had lived in DC for years but often traveled back and forth to Moscow, irritating the Kremlin. On a trip to Moscow in spring 2015, he had been poisoned and nearly died. During his treatment in a Washington hospital, he received a visit from an FBI agent who said he had been assigned to Kara-Murza’s case. When Kara-Murza recovered, he flew back to Moscow, and in February 2017 he was poisoned a second time, experiencing identical symptoms. That was why, ten months later, he was still limping.

The young Russian took a seat next to the window and a minute later was joined by a tall man in his midforties: the FBI agent. The agent had called for a meeting, promising to bring Kara-Murza some information about his poisoning. At this point, they had known each other for two years.

“We think we found the active substance you were poisoned with,” the FBI agent said.

He told Kara-Murza that the agency was preparing a detailed report and explained that the heads of the Russian secret services would be soon visiting Washington: “We are going to hand the report over to them—that there was an attempted murder of a Russian citizen on Russian territory for political reasons.”

The FBI’s intent, the agent implied, was to send a message that they were not very happy about politically motivated poisonings in Moscow. But some in the agency were more troubled by the strange events happening on their own turf—in Washington.

A year and a half earlier, a Russian former press minister and presidential aide had been brutally beaten near his Dupont Circle hotel. He managed to make it to his room and then died there, not far from the coffee shop where Kara-Murza and the FBI agent were sitting. Those who had beaten the ex-minister to death were never found, and the rumor in Moscow was that he had fallen out of line with the Kremlin just before the incident.

The FBI wanted to make its concerns clear to the Russian intelligence community, and the upcoming visit provided a unique opportunity. The heads of all three major Russian spy agencies—SVR, the foreign intelligence agency; FSB, the domestic security service; and the GRU, military intelligence—had never before traveled together to a Western capital, but they planned to do exactly that at the end of January 2018.

Three weeks after their coffee shop meeting, the FBI agent called Kara-Murza again. He didn’t offer to meet this time. He just told Kara-Murza that laboratory results on the poison were inconclusive and that the plan to deliver a report had been called off. Then he hung up.

The heads of the three Russian intelligence agencies flew to Washington, as planned, at the end of January. It was very unlikely, given the circumstances, that the report on Kara-Murza was mentioned at the highly secret meeting.1 The following month, another Russian, former spy Sergei Skripal, would be poisoned in Britain by two agents of Russian military intelligence.

Almost thirty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and twenty since Vladimir Putin came to power in the Kremlin, Russians abroad were suddenly in the crosshairs.

In January 2018, as the heads of all three Russian spy agencies went to Washington, we went to Paris.

In the heavy rain, across the enormous Champ de Mars, the Eiffel Tower seemed unreachable. We were standing at the epicenter of France’s military glory: behind us stood the stately classic complex of the École-Militaire—the famous center for French military education—and all around us the avenues were named after French marshals.

We decided to keep walking. It was a nice walk, even in the rain; after the winter in Moscow, it felt good to see something other than snow. From the Champ de Mars we headed down the Avenue Rapp—named after a Napoleonic general who led an attack at Austerlitz that completely decimated the Russian emperor’s elite Chevalier Guard. Our destination was the Pont de l’Alma, a bridge named after a Crimean War battle in which an expeditionary French and British force defeated the Russian army.

But our intentions for sightseeing were not historical in nature. Right at that junction stands a brand-new complex: four buildings with facades covered in beige limestone. The building in the middle, topped by five onion-shaped domes, is the Holy Trinity Cathedral—part of the Russian Orthodox Spiritual and Cultural Center.

We wanted to see it because although the center had been in operation for only two years, it had already sparked large-scale “spy mania.” Among the rumors circulating was that the French counterintelligence services had surrounded the complex with jamming devices to prevent the Russians from using the center’s facilities for electronic eavesdropping. And we knew that the officials at the French Foreign Ministry, located on the nearby Quai d’Orsay, were pissed off by the Russian government’s request that the center’s employees be granted diplomatic immunity.

We entered through the main doors. Two bulky security guards told us—very politely and in Russian—to open our bags. They checked the insides thoroughly.

We crossed the main hall and entered an internal courtyard, where the rain was still coming down. But when we tried to sneak into the next building, we were stopped; a man appeared from nowhere and gestured at us to stop and go back. It was clear that we had entered an area that was under careful watch. In an instant, we were struck by that familiar feeling of being on Russian territory—specifically, the territory of a Russian government institution abroad.

Indeed we were. The center is the property of the administration of the Russian president, and it is run by people experienced in promoting Russia’s foreign policy. The head of the center was a career Russian diplomat. And Bishop Nestor, the prior of Holy Trinity Cathedral, was no stranger to Russian diplomacy himself; he had spent four years serving in the Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations, an alliance the Moscow Patriarchate called “a symphony between the state department and the church.”2

We walked back to the main hall, where a handful of French visitors were wandering around, looking at photographs on the walls. Announcements were posted everywhere about an upcoming concert featuring a male choir and an exhibition marking the centenary of the Bolshevik persecution of the Orthodox Church. Indeed, the center was getting ready to embark on an entire year of events commemorating the suffering of the church under the Communists.

The message was clear: Orthodox believers in France, mostly Russian emigrants and their descendants, were invited to come to a church that was clearly under Moscow’s control. There, they would be embraced by the new Russia, one no longer divided into two groups—the Russian diaspora and Russians still living in Russia—but constituting a single Russky Mir (Russian world), whose members were all “compatriots.”

Putin latched on to the concept of Russky Mir—the worldwide community of Russian-speaking people whose identity is firmly connected to Russia’s history, culture, and language—in the early 2000s.3 It is a community whose members are, by definition, closely tied to Russia. No wonder Putin liked the idea; it could serve as a good political instrument for promoting Russia’s influence abroad. According to Putin, this “Russian world” now consists of more than thirty million people, with ten million living in Europe.4 And, he decided, the church would provide them all with spiritual guidance.

To make this work for the Russian émigrés, two things were needed. First, prominent emigrant families would need to cooperate with Moscow. Second, the Russian Orthodox Church had to be united and the abyss bridged between the priests inside and outside the country.

Putin achieved both sets of conditions. He was not the first to take steps in this direction; his predecessor Boris Yeltsin had started a conversation with the émigrés in the final year of the Soviet Union. But Putin’s goals were completely different.

Russia’s diaspora is the third largest in the world, exceeded only by those from India and Mexico (China is fourth), according to UN statistics.5 That didn’t start recently. Russians began leaving the country in large numbers in the late nineteenth century, fleeing pogroms, tsarist secret police persecution, the Russian Revolution, then Stalin and the KGB. This exodus created a rare opportunity for the Kremlin. Moscow’s masters and spymasters scored their biggest successes—recruiting among the Western establishment, stealing the secrets of the American atomic bomb—through networks of spies, many of whom were emigrants driven from Russia. During the 1930s and 1940s, dozens of spies were in New York City gathering information for Moscow.

The history of Russian espionage is soaked in blood, as Russian agents proved themselves ruthless and efficient at killing their fellow emigrants abroad. The Kremlin had learned well that to ensure political stability, it was not enough to have people inside the country under control; the émigré communities had to be brutally policed too. After all, the mighty Russian empire had been taken down by a bunch of emigrant revolutionaries who, at the end of World War I, had seized the opportunity to return to the country. Their descendants in the Kremlin had good memories, which they put to good use.

Did that story end with the collapse of the Soviet Union? No.

Mikhail Gorbachev opened the borders, and in the 1990s, Russians started to leave the country in much bigger numbers. Emigration remained a golden opportunity for the Russian spymasters but also a challenge. Post-Soviet Russia lived without politically motivated emigrations for only ten years. When Putin came to power, he immediately returned to the practice of forcing his enemies out of the country.

We are Russian investigative journalists based in Moscow. (Full disclosure: Although we have traveled extensively, including while researching this book, we have never lived abroad for more than a few months.) For more than twenty years we have been focused on researching the ways in which the Kremlin controls the Russian people. Our first book, The New Nobility, was about the secret services—Moscow’s traditional means of “running a tight ship.” In our second book, The Red Web, we described the Kremlin’s desperate attempts to bring the internet to heel. So it seemed like the next natural step was to look at another serious challenge to the Russian authorities—the people who have moved outside Russia’s borders—and to explore the ways in which the Kremlin is dealing with them.

In this book, we tell the story of how, throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, the Kremlin has considered the presence of Russians in Western countries—particularly the United States—both its biggest threat and its biggest opportunity. Successive regimes in Moscow sought for years to use the Russian émigré community to achieve their goals. But they also sought to neutralize any potential dangers posed by Russians abroad, experimenting with tricks and methods that would also come in handy closer to home.

Part I covers the Soviet period from the time of Lenin’s death, when Soviet intelligence first began to develop ways to deal with the threat of emigration and ways of exploiting it, through the end of the Soviet Union. Much of that initial tool kit has been in use ever since. We also describe how the Americans struggled to make use of Russian émigré groups in the Cold War landscape.

Part II looks into the 1990s and how the opportunities created by Russia’s opening borders were exploited—by Russian American financiers, by Russian spies, and by different waves of Russian émigrés.

Part III shows how Putin changed the game, announcing and promulgating his own view of emigration, namely, that it was high time for Russian “compatriots” to advance Russia’s positions beyond its borders.

Finally, we describe in Part IV how Putin reintroduced political emigration—forcing Russians into exile and finding ways to signal to those who had left that Moscow’s hand could reach them anywhere and everywhere.

Russia’s borders remain porous, for the first time in its history, and that gives us hope. We tell the stories of some people who have found ways to fight the tactics of the current regime, both in Russia and from abroad. Their efforts, unsurprisingly, have raised the stakes and prompted the Kremlin to employ more desperate methods. That makes the world more dangerous, and more unpredictable, both for Russians abroad and for the countries that have welcomed them.





Lenin, “The Vozhd,”* was dead. Endless queues of silent mourners snaked through the snow as far as the eye could see, from Red Square all the way down to the Moskvoretsky Bridge. Some held large portraits: Lenin’s bold, distinctive head; face framed by a goatee and a moustache; the famous squint. The mourners moved slowly forward in the freezing January air, toward the hastily built wooden cube at the foot of the Kremlin’s wall. They wanted to see his body: the short man with small hands who was now lying there in an open coffin. LENIN read the sign over the entryway of the wooden cube. Long lines of servicemen in swishing greatcoats, large red stars on their helmets, formed a second line as they protected the wooden cube. Closer to the cube stood yet another line of guards—the chekists, the operatives of the Soviet secret police. One of them, a young man with fair hair and a flaccid chin, was in particular danger of freezing: Vasily Zarubin had already spent hours on Red Square and had not been able to leave to put on warmer clothes.1

Finally, Zarubin’s shift ended. He crossed the square hastily and turned right, onto Nikolskaya Street. From there, he walked briskly to the imposing, five-story building on Lubyanka Square that had been occupied by the Soviet secret police since 1918. Stamping his feet against the cold, Zarubin cursed himself; he had responded to the urgent summons from Moscow so quickly that he had forgotten to dress for the frigid weather. Now he was paying for his oversight.

The guards at Lubyanka admitted the young chekist into the secret service headquarters, which, in addition to offices, housed a deadly prison. As Zarubin felt the prickly sensation of warmth returning to his frozen extremities, he received his instructions for his next assignment: he was being sent to China to spy on a community of Russian exiles who had fled the revolution.

Within the halls of Lubyanka, Zarubin was considered an experienced operative. He was thirty years old and had spent ten of them at war—first in the World War, then in the civil war, and, finally, suppressing peasant revolts in central Russia. But for all his experience, he had deficits: Zarubin had never been abroad, and, as the son of a railroad worker, his formal education extended only to primary school. His real and only education was in the trenches. With his fair hair, pale skin, and Slavic features, Zarubin looked very Russian—something that would help him in his next assignment. After all, Harbin, China, was home to a large community of Russian exiles, and Zarubin’s looks would help him infiltrate this group.


  • "Borogan and Soldatov have uncovered a series of thrilling narratives about the strange, desperate, and passionate world of Russians abroad. Each one is worth a film in itself but when combined with the insights into the intelligence operative who monitored, wooed, duped, bribed, or killed them, the authors have come up with a novel, refreshing, and illuminating look into the enigma of the Russian soul."—Misha Glenny, author of McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld
  • "Through a series of endlessly compelling stories, Soldatov and Borogan make the case that Putin is carefully grooming and manipulating the vast Russian émigré community to serve the interests of their mother country. You can't follow Russian politics without Soldatov and Borogan's reporting. In The Compatriots, they once again deliver the fascinating inside story that's absent from the American press."—Joseph Weisberg, creator and executive producer of The Americans
  • "Talk about courageous journalism! Here's an inside expose of Russian poisonings, assassinations, and political meddling written by two Russian investigative journalists, Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan. They narrate a century of the Kremlin's dirty tricks through manipulation of Russians living abroad-making them serve the dark purposes of the state. Reading this book, you understand that there are still many brave, patriotic Russians who want what's best for their country, not just Vladimir Putin. If you liked watching The Americans on TV, then The Compatriots is a must-read. This isn't spy fiction, but spy fact."—David Ignatius, columnist for the Washington Post and author of The Quantum Spy
  • "A fascinating account of Russia's relations with its diaspora since 1917, weaving together stories of émigrés and spies, from Trotsky and his assassins to anti-Putin activists and billionaire oligarchs today."
    L.A. Review of Books
  • "The Compatriots helps us understand and put into perspective the history of the Kremlin's efforts to cope with, and control its perceived important contribution to the historical record of the Soviet Union and Russia."
    Cipher Brief
  • "An absorbing account....Colorful characters and piquant details make this a lively story. Readers curious about Russian political affairs and espionage will eat it up."—Publishers Weekly
  • "Soldatov and Borogan are two of the most revered experts on the subject of Russian secret services.... [The Compatriots] reads like a bunch of Hollywood plots bundled together into one mind-bending narrative.... a great read that now forms a perfect trilogy with two previous books--The New Nobility, which describes how secret services captured the Russian state under Putin, and The Red Web, which looks into the Kremlin's attempts to control the Internet."
  • "A fine and timely new book...In The Compatriots, authors Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan show that what has become the institutional practice of Moscow's security organs was honed in the early decades of Soviet government, when it perfected its methods against members of the Russian diaspora."—New York Review of Books
  • "[An] engaging history...The Compatriots offers a Russian perspective on fears, usually heard in the west, about the 'active measures' of propaganda and disinformation, as well as the arts of infiltration and assassination."—Financial Times
  • "Veteran Russian journalists Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan have tried to make sense of one strand in their country's complex history, the role of Russians who were either sensible or cunning enough to leave at crucial moments, mainly for a West from which Russian mentalities have often been estranged."—Washington Times

On Sale
Oct 8, 2019
Page Count
384 pages

Andrei Soldatov

About the Author

Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan are cofounders of Agentura.Ru and authors of The Red Web and The New Nobility. Their work has been featured in the New York Times, Moscow Times, Washington Post, Online Journalism Review, Le Monde, Christian Science Monitor, CNN, and BBC. The New York Times has called “a web site that came in from the cold to unveil Russian secrets.” Soldatov and Borogan live in Moscow, Russia.

Learn more about this author

Irina Borogan

About the Author

Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan are cofounders of Agentura.Ru and authors of The New Nobility. Their work has been featured in the New York TimesMoscow TimesWashington PostOnline Journalism ReviewLe MondeChristian Science MonitorCNN, and BBC. The New York Times has called “a web site that came in from the cold to unveil Russian secrets.” Soldatov and Borogan live in Moscow, Russia.

Learn more about this author