This publication shows how repressive regimes from the former Soviet Union, most notably Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan operate outside their borders to challenge dissenting voices. The exiles and activists targeted primarily include: members of opposition political parties and movements; independent journalists, academics and civil society activists; former regime insiders and their family members; banned clerics and alleged religious extremists, including alleged members of proscribed terrorist groups. This publication shows that these groups are at risk not only of physical and online surveillance and harassment, but vexatious extradition attempts, INTERPOL Red Notices, attacks, kidnapping and other forms of illegal rendition, and even assassination.
Security services from the former Soviet Union are adept at using the language of terrorism and state security to restrict the activities of their political opponents, triggering both formal cooperation agreements within the region through the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the longstanding personal networks between security service leaders, ‘the RepressIntern’ as Dr Mark Galeotti puts it, to put pressure on the opponents of fellow repressive regimes. The report shows that Russia has been particularly supportive of neighbouring regimes seeking the return of their nationals who are deemed to be troublesome, both through legally sanctioned extraditions and extra-legal forms of rendition or kidnapping, the latter particularly taking place when the individuals had sought protection from the European Court of Human Rights.
The security services from the former Soviet Union are particularly adept at operating within their diaspora communities in Russia, Turkey and across Europe. In the latter case, European security services need to play a more active role in monitoring the activities of these foreign security services on their soil, particularly within diaspora communities. Where possible, attempts should be made to assist exiles in protecting their emails, telecommunications and social media from hacking.
Western courts and immigration systems need to remain vigilant to resist extradition attempts that would expose individuals from the former Soviet Union to the risk of torture, unfair trial and imprisonment or worse upon their return. The case for reform of INTERPOL to stop Red Notices being used as a tool to target regime opponents abroad remains an important issue despite recent progress, noting in particular the recent case of Tajik opposition leader Muhiddin Kabiri.
Recommendations for Western policy makers
- Continue to reform the Interpol Red Notice system
- Remain vigilant to politicised extradition attempts and preserve the principle of non-refoulement
- Further investigate, through Western security services, networks of informants and agents that operate on behalf of the security services of the former Soviet Union on European soil
- Support exiles who are facing hacking and other attempts to steal their personal information
- Ensure that surveillance equipment, software and technical support are subject to export controls and are not provided by Western firms to repressive regimes in the region
- Suspend plans to upgrade trade and diplomatic arrangements with those states known to target activists in exile