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14 July, 2024
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Passports of Russian officials confiscated to prevent overseas escape

Wagner leader proposes complete travel ban

Source: Financial Times

A Soviet-style practice is being resorted to by Russia's security services, confiscating the passports of senior officials and executives of state-owned companies to prevent travel abroad, as "paranoia about leaks and defections spreads in Vladimir Putin's regime," reports the Financial Times.

With Russia's invasion of Ukraine still raging, security officials have tightened travel requirements, asking some prominent figures and former officials to hand over travel documents, several people familiar with the matter said.

The increased pressure reflects deep suspicion by the Kremlin and the FSB, the KGB's successor agency, about the allegiance of Russia's political elite, many of whom privately oppose the war in Ukraine.

Dmitry Peskov, Putin's spokesman, confirmed that Russia had tightened restrictions on foreign travel for some working in "sensitive" areas. “There are stricter rules for that. In some places, they are known, and in others, they depend on a specific decision … for specific employees,” he told the FT. "Since the start of the special military operation, more attention has been paid to this issue."

Since Soviet times, Russian officials with access to mid-level state secrets have been required to leave their passports in a safe managed by a "special agency" embedded in their ministries and companies. But Russian security services rarely enforced the rules, according to former officials and executives.

That changed after the invasion of Crimea in 2014 when security services began warning against travel to countries such as the US or the UK. After the full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, the restrictions were applied much more broadly and depended heavily on the "wills" of individual security officers in state institutions.

"Russia's security services have almost full latitude to interpret the rules under revisions to laws on state secrets, espionage, and treason," said a former official who resigned from the central bank after the hack last year and is now a visiting fellow at the German Council of Foreign Relations.

In February, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the notorious Wagner paramilitary group, called for a complete ban on foreign travel for officials, as well as accountability for the "immoral behavior of their relatives, the ostentatious display of wealth, and the abuse of luxury goods."

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