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US authorities have accused a Russian national of recruiting political groups in the United States to sow discord, spread pro-Moscow propaganda and interfere with US elections.

The Justice Ministry said on July 29 that Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov had been named in an indictment accusing him of working on behalf of the Russian government and in conjunction with the Federal Security Service (FSB) on a “malign foreign influence campaign” that lasted from at least December 2014 until March 2022.

Ionov and his Anti-Globalization Russia Movement (AGMR) were simultaneously singled out on July 29 by the US Treasury Department for sanctions in connection with US allegations of Russian interference in US elections.

AGMR’s English-language website claims it is a socio-political 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.

The AGMR maintained ties with anti-establishment groups in the United States and other countries, organizing conferences and demonstrations against American policy, according to the department. AGMR has received funding from the Russian National Benevolent Fund, a trust established by Russian President Vladimir Putin that raises funds from state-owned enterprises and Russian 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 contacted a political group to carry out the malign foreign influence campaign.

“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 Deputy Attorney General Matthew Olsen of the National Security Division of the National Security Division. Ministry of Justice.

According to the indictment, Ionov recruited political groups in the United States, including 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 American political groups by name, but provided details of their alleged involvement 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, ordered them to publish pro-Russian propaganda, coordinated and financed direct action by these groups in the United States intended to promote Russian interests, and coordinated coverage of this activity in the Russian media,” according to the indictment. said.

The indictment also says Ionov’s relationship with the Florida political group continued until at least March 2022, and following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the group hosted him in virtual conferences to discuss the war.

Ionov falsely stated at 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 accused of conspiring to get American citizens to act as unlawful agents of the Russian government. If found guilty, he faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison. It was not immediately clear if he had an attorney who could speak on his behalf, and he is not currently in custody.

The sanctions imposed on him and the AGMR were announcement as well as sanctions against another Russian national, Natalya Valeryevna Burlinova, and three other entities. The department said it played various roles in Russia’s attempts to manipulate and destabilize the United States and its allies and partners, including Ukraine.

The sanctions freeze all assets they hold in the United States and prohibit people in the country from doing business with them.

Brian Nelson, the department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement that the sanctions were a response to repeated attempts by the Kremlin to “threaten and undermine our democratic processes and institutions.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it was crucial for democracies to hold free and fair elections without malicious outside interference.

He said the Treasury action is distinct from the wide range of economic measures that the United States and its allies and partners have imposed in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, “which is another clear example of Russia’s contempt for the sovereignty and political independence of other states.”

The sanctions announced on July 29 follow a series of designations aimed at “exposing and disrupting Russia’s persistent election interference and destabilization efforts against Ukraine,” he added in a statement.

With reporting from Reuters, AFP and AP

Laura T. Thrasher