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In Season 6, Episode 9 of The Americans,

Claudia confronts Elizabeth about her final betrayal in the murder of Tatiana and foiling of the intended assassination of Nesterenko, stating that "within the last hour you have destroyed all we have worked for".

Why did the Jenningses return to the USSR?

Wouldn't this have been a bad move seeing that they betrayed the KGB? Even despite Gorbachev's administration?

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Note: this answer contains spoilers for the episodes preceding S6E09, "Jennings, Elizabeth". Anything occurring in this episode or the following episode are in explicit spoiler tags; but references to the episodes before these are written in clear text.

The KGB was divided in its support of Gorbachev. Claudia was a member of the anti-Gorbachev faction within Directorate S (part of the KGB), but Arkady, who is the deputy chief of Directorate S by this time, supported Gorbachev. The reason that Arkady recruited Oleg to contact Phillip is that Arkady didn't know which of his staff he could trust; see their discussion in S6E01, "Dead Hand".

By the time of the finale, Phillip and Elizabeth know about this conflict between the pro- and anti-Gorbachev factions, and have effectively chosen to side with Gorbachev. Returning to the USSR is admittedly something of a leap of faith, since they don't know how widespread the conspiracy against Gorbachev is; but they seem to be assuming that it is a relatively small faction. And of course, they know enough information about the plot help expose it. The fact that Arkady is the one to greet them in the USSR seems to indicate that he still has enough power within the Directorate to protect them. Of course, they don't know this for sure until they get there; there is a moment of tension when they drive up to the border crossing into the USSR and the guard checks their papers. Presumably they would have been arrested upon arrival had the anti-Gorbachev faction held enough sway.

Besides, it's not like they can stay in the USA. In the same episode,

Phillip barely escapes from the FBI agents who are tailing Father Andrei, and gives Elizabeth the signal that it's time to bug out. This is of particular concern because Father Andrei saw their true faces and knows their true names from their wedding ceremony in the previous season.

And if this wasn't enough, in the next episode, after

Stan confronts them in the parking garage

they certainly can't stay in the USA. If they don't return to the USSR, their only other option is to live in a neutral third country; and even then, they might not be safe if the KGB really wanted to get their hands on them (witness what happened to Agent Gaad in Bangkok, back in Season 4.)

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  • I often thought an epilogue episode of how they turned out after the fall of the USSR would have been neat. Did they secretly try to return to the US and check up on their son? Did Paige try to go to the newly-created Russian Federation to visit her parents? What happened to Henry? Did Stan adopt him and he grew up doing well in life or did he go “south” after the revelation that his family had been a lie? May 31 at 13:18
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    @MissouriSpartan: You might find the story of Tim & Alex Foley (who were the children of real-life "illegals") to be interesting in that regard. Their parents were arrested in 2010, and then exchanged back to Russia in a prisoner swap shortly thereafter. Their story helped inspire the creators of The Americans. May 31 at 14:20
  • I’d heard the show was based on these folks, but for the sake of protection (as well as making it more interesting), they rewound the clock back to the 80s and the final stages of the Cold War. May 31 at 15:29

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