U.S. authorities have charged a Russian national with recruiting political groups in the United States to sow discord, spread pro-Moscow propaganda, and interfere with U.S. elections.
The Justice Department said on July 29 that Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov has been named in an indictment charging him with working on behalf of the Russian government and in conjunction with the Federal Security Service (FSB) on a “foreign malign influence campaign” that lasted from at least December 2014 until March 2022.
Ionov and his Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia (AGMR) were simultaneously designated on July 29 by the U.S. Treasury Department for sanctions in connection with American claims of Russian interference in U.S. elections.
AGMR’s English-language website claims it is a sociopolitical movement that opposes “certain aspects of the globalization process” and seeks to stop “manifestations” of the so-called “new world order,” the Treasury Department said.
AGMR has maintained connections with anti-establishment groups in the United States and other countries, holding conferences and protests in opposition to U.S. policy, according to the department. AGMR has received funding from Russia’s National Charity Fund, a trust created by Russian President Vladimir Putin that gathers money from Russia’s state-owned companies and oligarchs.
The criminal charge against Ionov, a citizen of Moscow, was filed in federal court in Florida, one of the states in which the Justice Department said Ionov made contact with a political group to carry out the foreign malign influence campaign.
“As court documents show, Ionov allegedly orchestrated a brazen influence campaign, turning U.S. political groups and U.S. citizens into instruments of the Russian government,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.
According to the indictment, Ionov recruited political groups within the United States, including in the U.S. states of Florida, Georgia, and California, “and exercised direction or control over them on behalf of the FSB.”
The Justice Department did not identify the U.S. political groups by name but provided details of their alleged engagement with Ionov.
The leader of the political group in Florida, for example, received an all-expenses paid trip to Russia in May 2015, and for at least the next seven years Ionov “exercised direction and control over senior members of the group,” the department said.
Ionov “provided financial support to these groups, directed them to publish pro-Russian propaganda, coordinated and funded direct action by these groups within the United States intended to further Russian interests, and coordinated coverage of this activity in Russian media outlets,” the indictment says.
The indictment also says Ionov’s relationship with the Florida political group continued until at least March 2022, and in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine the group hosted him in virtual conferences to discuss the war.
Ionov falsely stated during the conferences that anyone who supported Ukraine also supported Nazism and white supremacy. Ionov then reported to the FSB that he had enlisted the group to support Russia in the “information war unleashed” by the West, the indictment says.
Ionov is charged with conspiring to have U.S. citizens act as illegal agents of the Russian government. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison. It was not immediately clear if he had a lawyer who could speak on his behalf, and he is not currently in custody.
The sanctions imposed on him and AGMR were announced along with sanctions on another Russian national, Natalya Valeryevna Burlinova, and three other entities. The department said they played various roles in Russia’s attempts to manipulate and destabilize the United States and its allies and partners, including Ukraine.
The sanctions freeze any assets they hold in the United States and ban people in the country from dealing with them.
Brian Nelson, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence in the department, said in a statement that the sanctions were in response to the Kremlin’s repeated attempts to “threaten and undermine our democratic processes and institutions.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it was crucial for democracies to hold free and fair elections without malign outside interference.
He said the Treasury’s action is separate from the broad range of economic measures that the United States and its allies and partners have imposed in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, “which constitutes another clear example of Russia’s disregard for the sovereignty and political independence of other states.”
The sanctions announced on July 29 follow a series of designations designed to “expose and disrupt Russia’s persistent election interference and destabilization efforts against Ukraine,” he added in a statement.