Former informants tell of Russia's obsession with CIA

3 weeks ago 98

By Matthew Chance, Katharina Krebs and Rachel Clarke, CNN

Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT) September 7, 2022

Amsterdam, The Netherlands (CNN)Mikhail Sokolov knows Russian agents mightiness beryllium watching him. He says helium spied connected his ain colleagues for Moscow for years.

Now helium says helium is seeking asylum successful the Netherlands, arsenic helium walks warily astir the canals of Amsterdam, telling CNN astir his recruitment arsenic an informant, his betrayal of the absorption groups helium joined, and wherefore helium got out.

"If we judge their words, they truly deliberation that the CIA is trying to facilitate a gyration successful Russia and that Navalny is an cause from the CIA," Sokolov said of the FSB, the work that replaced the KGB erstwhile the Soviet Union fell. "They deploy immense amounts of resources and effort not to fto the gyration hap successful Russia. They are looking for a overseas enemy."

He says the FSB is besides "obsessed" with knowing who mightiness win Alexey Navalny, poisoned and present imprisoned, arsenic person of the country's absorption movement.

Mikhail Sokolov said the daze  of the Russian penetration  of Ukraine forced him to crook   his backmost  connected  the FSB.

Sokolov's revelations are shining a uncommon airy connected the interior workings of the Kremlin's secretive information work and travel arsenic portion of a drawstring of caller defections from Russia since the penetration of Ukraine.

CNN contacted the FSB and the CIA for remark connected this story. The FSB did not respond and the CIA declined to comment. CNN has seen nary credible grounds oregon assertion of US authorities engagement successful Russia's absorption movement.

From pupil to spy

Sokolov told CNN helium was a "regular 19-year-old student" backmost successful 2016 erstwhile helium archetypal got progressive successful governmental activism, joining the Russian Communist Party, fundamentally a Kremlin-sanctioned absorption radical successful modern-day Russia, and campaigning against specified issues arsenic rising fares for nationalist transport.

But helium besides launched his ain autarkic anti-corruption investigations into section officials, which whitethorn person attracted immoderate authoritative attention.

"Russia present and Russia successful 2016 are 2 antithetic countries," helium said. "Back past you were capable to beryllium an activistic and beryllium safe. I americium not blind, I spot what problems my state has, my radical have. I spot however Europe lives. I was motivated to marque my state better."

But portion helium was engaged successful activism, helium besides dodged his compulsory subject work and Sokolov says that's however the FSB targeted him.

"I was called successful for a gathering with the caput of the subject enlistment bureau wherever I was met by an FSB officer. The serviceman said they had been pursuing maine for immoderate clip and gave maine a choice: hold to cooperate oregon spell to situation for 2 years."

Sokolov said helium was frightened of prison, wherever allegations of maltreatment are rife, and decided taking the woody was his lone mode out.

Keeping tabs connected Navalny money

Within a year, successful 2017, Sokolov started volunteering to enactment with Navalny's anti-corruption campaign, helium told CNN. By 2021 helium was connected the organization's staff, and sharing cardinal accusation with the FSB.

Sometimes the FSB's interests seemed to align with his.

"On a determination level they are so funny successful corrupt officials," Sokolov said. "On a nationwide level they are funny successful who is financing Navalny's campaign. They had a mentation that we are financed by the CIA." Sokolov told CNN helium saw nary grounds of CIA backing during his clip moving with the Navalny campaign, and Navalny himself has ever categorically denied immoderate links to US intelligence.

Sokolov, pictured with Alexey Navalny, was not adjacent  capable   to the absorption   person  to person  quality   connected  him and was alternatively  told to study  connected  wherever  the wealth  was coming from.

As the Kremlin stepped up its crackdown connected dissidents astatine home, Sokolov says helium was sent by his FSB handlers to the erstwhile Soviet republic of Georgia to infiltrate the increasing expatriate assemblage of Russians escaping the repressions. Again, Sokolov said, the FSB seemed highly acrophobic the CIA was recruiting Russians.

"They thought that Georgian information services are recruiting absorption members nether the guidance of the American CIA," Sokolov said, though helium again saw nary grounds of this happening.

Sokolov said helium ne'er believed what the FSB was doing was close and his enactment for them was a "massive burden." But inactive helium undertook their missions for much than 5 years.

War changed ngo and minds

Another young activistic told CNN a akin communicative of coerced recruitment and past demands from the FSB.

Vsevolod Osipov was a subordinate of the fringe Libertarian Party of Russia erstwhile helium was approached, adjacent though helium told CNN helium thought the enactment was excessively tiny and insignificant to merit attraction from the information service.

But aft helium was detained successful May 2021, successful transportation with an earlier protest against Navalny's arrest, Osipov -- past conscionable 19 -- agreed to spy connected Russian individuals and groups opposed to President Vladimir Putin's authorities successful instrumentality for avoiding prison.

"I had assorted tasks," helium said. "I had to conscionable peculiar people, get acquainted with them. For example, the person of the Libertarian Party of Russia, Yaroslav Conway, oregon the caput coordinator of the Free Russia Foundation successful Georgia, Anton Mikhalchuk."

Vsevolod Osipov said his handler told him to find   retired  what Russians were reasoning  astir  the warfare  successful  Ukraine.

Again, determination was a immense involvement connected what extracurricular involvement, if any, determination mightiness beryllium from Western quality organizations.

"There were different much analyzable tasks -- to find retired whether determination is immoderate practice with the West oregon find retired what was happening down the scenes successful a peculiar organization, if the absorption is moving for American oregon different overseas peculiar services," helium said.

Osipov said helium excessively was sent to Georgia wherever helium was told to show the views of the Russian community, particularly astir the warfare successful Ukraine and however different countries and non-governmental organizations were helping Ukrainian refugees.

"As soon arsenic the warfare started, my handler asked maine to find retired however the assemblage mostly feels astir the penetration of Ukraine," helium said. "The FSB was besides funny successful immoderate practice with Western information services oregon if anyone is receiving finances from abroad."

The fearfulness was ever what information determination could beryllium to the Kremlin and Putin, helium said.

"Russian information services are precise good alert of the past of our country," Osipov said. "When a immense migrant assemblage emerges abroad, wherever radical talk freely to each other, enactment connected projects together, assistance Ukrainian refugees, fundamentally make a mini-Russia abroad, which is not nether the power of FSB -- they are acrophobic that past volition repetition itself arsenic it was successful 1917 erstwhile Lenin came to Moscow and started a revolution," helium added.

"They are acrophobic that their authorities volition beryllium impacted present during this war."

He says helium is speaking present to effort to close immoderate of his wrongs and possibly connection immoderate extortion for his parent who is inactive successful Russia.

"I truly privation to get backmost home," helium said. "I bash not hatred the country, I hatred our government," Osipov added.

Back successful Amsterdam, Mikhail Sokolov said it was the daze of the Russian penetration of Ukraine connected February 24 that overwhelmed his fears of repercussions and forced him to crook his backmost connected the FSB.

    "I hatred the mode Russia is now. I hatred everything connected to Russia now, the information that they began warfare against our brotherly nation, my brotherly nation," helium said.

    CNN's Matthew Chance and Katharina Krebs reported this communicative from Amsterdam and London, and Rachel Clarke wrote successful Atlanta.

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