According to a report published by the Russian independent news outlet Meduza, Russia’s Federal Security Service has recruited former Islamic State jihadists to enter Ukraine, Turkey, and the United States. The media named four recruited extremists.
An unnamed source close to the FSB verified ongoing but frequently failed attempts to spy within Ukraine’s military circles, the report claims.
Meduza spoke with a former Russian Islamic State combatant who had served only a four-year term in prison instead of a 20-year sentence as a condition for accepting to operate for the FSB in Ukraine.
In the spring of 2022, the fighter, Baurzhan Kultanov, said the FSB sent him to Turkey, where he claimed he was tasked with gathering information about covert operations to send militants to Ukraine.
According to reports, the FSB in Ukraine has targeted the commander of a volunteer battalion that has been supporting Ukraine since 2014 and includes Crimean Tatars and Chechens among its members.
The FSB agents said it would be ideal to turn him into a double agent so that other special services would be interested in hiring him, according to Kultanov.
“You served time here but are a Muslim terrorist. Just let them know you want to help and don’t like Russia or the FSB. They’ll welcome you with open arms,” the officer, Alexander Gushin, reportedly told Kultanov.
In January 2023, Ukraine declared that it had identified more than 600 Russian operatives.
A Turkish court has sentenced Kultanov to prison for allegedly breaking immigration laws. According to Meduza, he requested political asylum because if sent back to Russia, he would be imprisoned and possibly killed.
The claim that Russia is actively recruiting in Ukraine was made by Karim, a former ISIS fighter from the Russian territory of Dagestan, according to Meduza. Karim is said to have fought alongside Kultanov in Syria.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, 50 Russians have been imprisoned by American authorities across the border with Mexico on suspicion of being FSB operatives, according to Vera Mironova, a researcher on terrorism, who Meduza quoted.
Some FSB spies usually claim that they are activists persecuted in Russia, but in fact, they were assigned to spy on Russian opposition activists, and media turn themselves into the American border police, Mironova said.
The plans to send the “fake activists” to the United States were discussed at a 2020 Kremlin meeting with Timur Prokopenko, a top official in charge of domestic affairs, according to Meduza.
Meduza’s requests for a response from the FSB, the SBU, and the Kremlin went unanswered.