A Russian national working with the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) has been charged with allegedly orchestrating a “years-long foreign malign influence campaign…to sow discord, spread pro-Russian propaganda, and interfere in elections within the United States.”
The Department of Justice unsealed an indictment on Friday, which alleges that, between 2014 and 2022, Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov recruited multiple unnamed American political groups “and exercised direction or control over them on behalf of the FSB.” Ivanov allegedly wielded influence by funding “direct action by these groups within the United States intended to further Russian interests”; directing them to publish pro-Russian propaganda; and coordinating coverage of these activities with Russian media outlets.
The allegations against Ionov include exercising “direction and control” over a California-based political group “whose primary goal was to promote California’s secession from the United States.” Ionov allegedly partially funded the group’s efforts and attempted to direct them to “physically enter the governor’s office” during a 2018 protest at the California State Capitol. In subsequent communications discussing media coverage of the protest, Ivanov bragged he’d delivered the “turmoil” an FSB agent had asked him to orchestrate.
In March of 2020, Ionov allegedly paid for members of another political group he was involved with to to travel from Atlanta to San Francisco to “protest at the headquarters of a social media company that had placed content restrictions on posts supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”
Ivanov is also alleged to have controlled a third political group based in Florida, funding a “four-city protest tour” in 2016 meant to “foster discord within the United States.” The unnamed group allegedly pushed a petition seeking justice for the “Crime of Genocide against African People in the United States.”
In a separate sanctions designation of Ionov also unveiled Friday, the Treasury Department alleged that the Russian national “cooperates” with “Project Lakhta,” a Russian influence operation waged by “Putin’s chef” Yevgeny Prighozin, which included Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 election through social media trolls.
According to the 2018 indictments of Prighozin and his alleged associates, Project Lakhta was a covert influence campaign that “engaged in political and electoral interference operations targeting populations within the Russian Federation,” Europe, the U.S., and Ukraine. The group’s goal in the U.S., according to the previous indictments, was to “spread distrust towards candidates for political office and the political system in general.”
The Treasury Department alleged that Ionov also independently raised $30,000 to pay legal fees for Maria Butina, the Russian national who served time in prison for acting as an illegal, unregistered agent of Russia after she infiltrated right-wing groups like the NRA.
The Justice Department indicted Prigozhin, his company, Concord Management and Consulting, and a number of employees for meddling in the 2016 election.