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Russian accused of using US political groups to spread propaganda

The man is one of several Russian officials who schemed to promote support for the Kremlin and spread political discord in the U.S., according to federal prosecutors.

(CN) — The U.S. Department of Justice unveiled an indictment Friday against a man from Moscow accused of secretly operating a yearslong scheme to promote pro-Russia propaganda in U.S. politics on behalf of the Kremlin.

According to the indictment filed in Tampa federal court, from December 2014 until March 2022, Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov and at least three other Russian officials conducted a "foreign malign influence campaign that used various U.S. political groups to sow discord, spread pro-Russian propaganda, and interfere in elections within the United States."

Ionov is the founder and president of the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia, an organization funded by the Russian government aimed against the global dominance of transnational corporations and supranational trade and financial institutions.

According to the organization's website, its members boldly oppose the "monopolization of the world system of relations and governance by a few individual countries."

They also warn of an emerging “new world order” that will result in the unification of a "single mega-totalitarian world state," and seek to uphold Russia's global sovereignty.

By providing financial support to several political groups across the country – including in Florida, Georgia and California – the indictment alleges Ionov manipulated them to publish propaganda in support of the interests of the Russian government and even coordinated coverage of this activity in Russian media outlets according to the indictment.

Some senior members of these political groups allegedly knew Ionov was aligned with the Russian Federal Security Service based on their emails, which also showed that he paid for one of them to attend an AGMR-sponsored conference in Moscow.

The indictment also claims that Ionov used a St. Petersburg, Florida-based political group to submit a petition to the United Nations over the "crime of genocide against African people in the United States" and fund a protest tour to support it.

This petition has over 113,000 signatures on Change.org. It states, "We will show that despite the heroic struggle of African people for our civil and constitutional rights during the 1960s, African people exist today under conditions in which the U.S. state powers not only fail to protect our health and well-being as expected under full citizenship, but continually inflict state or state-supported violence and terror on us."

The Justice Department believes Ionov's efforts to promote the petition were part of an attempt by the Russian government to "foster discord within the United States" - the same reason for aiding a California organization pushing for the state to secede from the U.S.

Most recently, Ionov's alleged schemes included protesting with a political group against a social media company for restricting content supporting Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and comparing supporting Ukraine with supporting "Nazism and white supremacy" during a video conference discussing the war with a political group.

Ionov was charged with conspiring to have U.S. citizens act as illegal agents of the Russian government for allegedly trying to influence American elections and political groups "by spreading misinformation, distrust and mayhem."

If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison. He is not currently in custody, according to the Associated Press.

In March, federal prosecutors in New York also indicted a dual Russian and U.S. citizen under the same charge.

Elena Branson, 61, was also charged for willfully failing to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, conspiring to commit visa fraud and making false statements to the FBI.

The indictment against Branson accused her of receiving tens of thousands of dollars in funding from Russian government entities to host events designed to consolidate the Russian-speaking youth community in the U.S. and to promote Russian history and culture to American youths.

Branson allegedly sent correspondence to then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and met with a high-ranking Russian government minister in regards to her activities.

According to the Justice Department, she left the U.S. in 2020 and remains at large.

“The Department of Justice will not allow Russia to unlawfully sow division and spread misinformation inside the United States," said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

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