Report: Russia Resurrects Cold War Tactics, Targets International University Students

Alexander ZemlianichenkoAP Images

The Soviet tradition of politicizing student mobility has been resurrected, according to a report authored by Maia Chankseliani, Associate Professor of Comparative and International Education at the University of Oxford, published by The Conversation.

The Russian government agency primarily responsible for administering civilian foreign aid issued an information campaign called, “Highly Likely Welcome Back.” The name of the campaign is a nod at British Prime Minister Theresa May, and her comment about it being “highly likely” that Russia was responsible for the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

“Either this was a direct action by the Russian state against our country, or the Russian government lost control of its potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others,” May said, according to BBC.

The Kremlin’s call to come home has left Russians studying in Britain unfazed, according to Radio Free Europe, in spite of the fact that the Russian government has promised that all returning students would be accepted into the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations, even given jobs in the Russian Far East.

According to Chankseliani, Russia, which remains a popular destination for students from former Soviet countries, currently hosts nearly a quarter of a million international students. The Russian government, according to the Oxford professor, considers international recruitment to be a matter of foreign policy.

Likewise, nearly 60,000 Russian students study abroad. The politicization of Russian higher education, Professor Chankseliani asserts, dates back to the Cold War, when the USSR targeted African, Asian, and Latin American countries. At the time, the USSR viewed international student recruitment as a key piece of the Cold War puzzle, and used students to spread Soviet ideology in African, Asian, and Latin American countries, at the time rife with anti-colonial movements.

This sentiment is still alive and well, and this rationale has practically been resurrected in present day Russia, the report states, and the Russian government has focused on recruiting international students from former Soviet republics. At the moment, the Russian government sponsors thousands of students from the Baltic States, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and the Commonwealth of Independent States (of the 15 former Soviet republics, nine are members of the CIS).

Russia aims to triple the international students number by 2025. According to Chankseliani, this signals that Russia has indeed brought old Cold War tactics back to life, targeting the student population. Furthermore, apart from aiming to have 700,000 international students studying in the country by 2025, the Russian government has, according to the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, decided to expand this program to Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.