Russia allegedly recruited American groups to spread propaganda

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Russian operative who worked for one of the Kremlin’s top intelligence agencies has been accused of recruiting political groups in the United States to advance pro-Russian propaganda, including during the invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, the Ministry of Justice Department said Friday.

Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov is accused of using groups in Florida, Georgia and California to spread pro-Kremlin talking points, with prosecutors accusing him of funding trips to Russia and paying for trips to conferences.

He is charged in federal court in Florida with conspiring to get US citizens to act as unlawful agents of the Russian government. It was not immediately clear if he had an attorney who could speak on his behalf, and he is not currently in custody.

The indictment alleges that Ionov ordered one of the political activists to post a petition on the website created by former President Barack Obama’s team, change.org. The petition, titled “Petition on the Crime of Genocide Against the African People in the United States,” was still available on change.gov on Friday and had more than 113,000 signatures.

The organizations were not identified in the indictment, which was filed in federal court in Florida.

The Treasury Department also announced sanctions against Ionov on Friday, accusing him of donating money to organizations he and Russian intelligence believe would create social or political disruption in the United States and also sought ways to support an unspecified 2022 gubernatorial candidate.

“As court documents show, Ionov allegedly orchestrated a brazen influence campaign, turning American political groups and American citizens into instruments of the Russian government,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen, head of the security division. of the Ministry of Justice, in a press release.

The case is part of a much broader Justice Department crackdown on foreign influence operations aimed at shaping public opinion in the United States. In 2018, for example, the Justice Department charged 13 Russian nationals with participating in a massive hidden social media campaign aimed at sowing discord. in the 2016 presidential election won by Republican Donald Trump.

FBI Special Agent in Charge David Walker in Tampa called the Russian efforts “some of the most egregious and egregious violations we’ve seen.”

“The Russian intelligence threat is continuous and relentless,” Walker said at a news conference in St. Petersburg, Florida. “Today’s actions should have a deterrent effect.”

Associated Press writer Michael Schneider in Orlando contributed to this report.




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