July 30 (UPI) — A Kremlin-backed operative is accused of masterminding a sprawling election interference campaign in multiple states, federal authorities charged in an indictment unsealed Friday.
Prosecutors say Aleksandr V. Ionov, of Moscow, orchestrated and funded “malign influence” campaigns between December 2014 and March 2022 to “sow discord, spread pro-Russian propaganda, and interfere in elections within the United States.”
Ionov allegedly operated with support from the Russian government, reporting to the spy agency FSB, while he influenced political groups in California, Florida and Georgia.
Prosecutors say Ionov also backed a group attempting to promote California’s secession from the United States, and in another instance funded cross-country travel for a group of activists targeting a social media company that censored pro-Russia conspiracy theorists.
Ionov became so familiar with the players in America’s elections, at some point he even referred to someone as the candidate “whom we supervise” in a cable to his handlers at the FSB.
In court papers, Ionov is said to self-describe his shadow work as generating “turmoil” to support Russia in the “information war unleashed” by the West.
“Secret foreign government efforts to influence American elections and political groups threaten our democracy by spreading misinformation, distrust and mayhem,” DOJ Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite Jr. said Friday in a statement.
“The department is committed to ensuring U.S. laws protecting transparency in the electoral process and the political system are not undermined through foreign malign influence,” Polite said.
Ionov faces five years in federal prison on charges of conspiring to have U.S. citizens act as illegal agents of the Russian government.
“The impact of Russian malign foreign influence cannot be overstated,” FBI Assistant Director Luis Quesada said in a statement. “The FBI will aggressively pursue any foreign government that attempts to divide American citizens and poison our democratic process.”