Russia has launched a campaign to urge students studying abroad to return home to continue their education.
The campaign is led by a government agency in charge of shaping Russia’s image and supporting citizens living abroad. The launch was announced April 16.
The agency is officially called the Federal Agency for CIS Matters, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Humanitarian Cooperation. Some Western intelligence agencies suspect it of being a front organization for Russian spying and recruiting.
The marketing campaign is called “Highly Likely Welcome Back.” The name appeared to be targeting comments made by British Prime Minister Theresa May. May has said a British investigation found it “highly likely” Russia was responsible for the poisoning of a former Russian double agent and his daughter in Britain.
Officials from the United States and other countries have also accused the Russian government of ordering the poisoning. The March 4 attack in the British city of Salisbury seriously injured former Russian military intelligence official Sergei Skripal and his daughter.
Russia has denied involvement in the attack.
The incident led many Western nations to expel dozens of Russian diplomats. Russia answered by expelling diplomats from Western countries.
The state-run RIA-Novosti news agency reported that an official involved in the new campaign said it is aimed at fighting anti-Russian feelings in other nations.
The official said government politics in many countries – especially in Europe – “have increasingly taken on a harshly expressed anti-Russian character.”
The marketing campaign seeks to answer the influence of “Russophobic attitudes” on citizens and students living abroad, the official said.
Russia’s Education and Science Ministry reported that, in 2014, about 60,000 Russians were studying outside Russia.
Another official told the Kommersant newspaper there were concerns that young Russians may experience difficulties in nations expressing “unfriendly” feelings about Russia.
The Moscow Times has reported that an agency official said the program was mainly designed to seek the return of Russians studying in Britain.
Genri Sardarian is head of the department of management and politics at Moscow’s MGIMO University. He said his school and others across Russia are ready to accept any Russians who decide to come back and continue their studies at home.
The worsening ties between the United States and Russia have made it more difficult for some American students seeking to study in Russia.
In a travel advisory issued in January, the U.S. State Department listed Russia as one of the most dangerous countries to visit. The advisory said this was due to harassment and terrorism. That led Stanford University in California to suspend its study-abroad program in Russia.
However, one U.S.-based organization centered on studies in Russia says most of its members still operate study-abroad programs. The Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies said in a statement that most universities feel they can trust their Russian partners to keep their programs’ students safe.