- The office of special counsel Robert Mueller charged 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies on Friday for illegally interfering in the US political system.
- The charges directly targeted the Internet Research Agency, a Russian organisation that employed “trolls” to sow discord about the election on social media.
- Read on to find out what you need to know about the people and companies involved.
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office charged 13 Russian nationals and the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a notorious Russian “troll factory,” with violating US law and interfering in the 2016 election.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the indictments during a press conference on Friday.
“The defendants allegedly conducted what they called ‘information warfare against the United States’ with the stated goal of spreading distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general,” Rosenstein said.
All the defendants were charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the US; the IRA and two defendants were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud; and the IRA and four defendants were charged with aggravated identity theft.
While the indictment sheds light on the elaborate and multi-faceted nature of Russia’s social-media influence operation, it does not allege that any Americans knowingly collaborated with the effort. Rosenstein also said that the underlying conduct did not affect the outcome of the election.
Here’s some background on the 13 individuals and three companies that Mueller’s office charged:
Internet Research Agency
The IRA registered with the Russian government as a corporate entity in 2013. It was based out of an office in St. Petersburg, the second biggest city in Russia.
Over the next few years, the IRA employed hundreds of people, Rosenstein said, and was primarily funded by Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin, a prominent Russian oligarch with close ties to the Kremlin.
In 2014, the IRA established an initiative called the “translator project,” the indictment said, which focused on provoking Americans on social media platforms, including Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and others. Rosenstein said more than 80 employees were assigned to the project during the heat of the US campaign season in July 2016.
The IRA was part of a multi-faceted Russian operation called “Project Lakhta.” The project aimed to sow discord among Americans in the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election.
Prigozhin is one of Russia’s richest and most politically connected people, with ties to the highest levels of the Kremlin, including Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Prigozhin is known in Russia for running numerous restaurants and catering businesses that have hosted Putin’s dinners with foreign diplomats. Last year, the AP reported that some in Russia media have nicknamed him “Putin chef.”
Mueller’s indictment says Prigozhin financially “approved and supported” the IRA’s activities.
“The Americans are very impressionable people. They see what they want to see,” Prigozhin told Ria Novosti, a Russian state news agency, following the indictment’s release. “I have a lot of respect for them. I am not upset at all that I ended up on this list. If they want to see the devil, let them see him.”
Last year, the US government placed Prigozhin on its sanctions list for his dealings with Russia’s Defence Ministry, which has been heavily involved in the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.
The Concord companies
Prigozhin was primarily responsible for bankrolling the IRA’s work through two companies he controlled: Concord Management and Consulting LLC, and Concord Catering.
Through those companies and various other affiliate groups, Prigozhin provided the IRA with a monthly budget of at least $US1.25 million, according to the Justice Department indictments.
Both of Prigozhin’s Concord companies, which hold various contracts with the Russian government, were named in Mueller’s indictment.
But Concord’s activities weren’t limited to funding the IRA. It also recommended personnel, and oversaw the group’s management and activities, the indictment filing said. Concord was able to disguise its funding as payments related to software support and development, and the group often transmitted money to the IRA through a collection of Russian shell companies and 14 different bank accounts, the DOJ said.
12 other defendants
The remaining 12 defendants named in Mueller’s indictment were all identified as former employees of the IRA. While they held a variety of different positions, they were all allegedly involved in carrying out Russian influence operations in the US. Here’s what their roles were, according to the indictment.
- Mikhail Bystrov served as the director of the IRA, frequently communicating with Prigozhin about the agency’s overall operations.
- Mikhail Burchik was a high-ranking manager responsible for operational planning, infrastructure, and personnel.
- Aleksandra Krylova worked for the IRA for about a year. In 2014, she travelled to the US under false pretenses to gather intelligence.
- Sergey Polozov worked as the IT department manager and helped to run a virtual network of US-based computer servers to disguise the location of the Russians’ activities.
- Anna Bogacheva was the second Russian to travel to the US to collect intelligence. She also served on the “translator project” overseeing data analysis programs.
- Maria Bovda worked at the IRA for about a year as the head of the translator project, among other positions.
- Robert Bovda tried to travel in the US to gather intelligence for the IRA but was denied a visa. He served as the deputy head of the translator project.
- Dzheykhun Aslanov was heavily involved in operations targeting the 2016 US election. He also served as the head of the translator project at one point.
- Vadim Podkopaev drafted social media content, researched US political issues, and conducted analysis for the translator project.
- Gleb Vasilchenko was responsible for managing and updating various social media accounts.
- Irina Kaverzina operated multiple US personas, which she used to post, monitor, and update social media content.
- Vladimir Venkov worked on the translator project and posed as multiple different Americans on social media platforms.
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