Justice Indicts Russians for Political Interference and University Initiatives

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Four US citizens and three Russian nationals have been charged with conspiracy to use US citizens as illegal agents of the Russian government.

The defendants are accused of participating in a multi-year foreign malign influence campaign within the United States, orchestrated by Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB). The campaign allegedly involved recruiting, funding, and directing US political groups to act as unregistered illegal agents of the Russian government, sow discord, and spread pro-Russian propaganda.

The indicted intelligence officers are also accused of covertly funding and directing candidates for local office within the United States.

In a separate case in the District of Columbia, Russian national Natalia Burlinova has been charged with conspiring with an FSB officer to act as an illegal agent of Russia in the United States.  (Burlinova was added to the Treasury's Sanction List in July 2022).

Burlinova allegedly conspired to recruit US citizens from academic and research institutions to participate in a public diplomacy program called Meeting Russia. The program was operated by PICREADI, a Russian organization led by Burlinova, funded by the Russian government, and devoted to promoting Russian national interests.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division stated that Russia's foreign intelligence service had "weaponized our First Amendment rights" to divide Americans and interfere in US elections. He added that the department would not hesitate to expose and prosecute those who sow discord and corrupt US elections in service of hostile foreign interests.

The FSB officers are accused of conspiring to influence democratic elections in the US by clandestinely funding and directing the political campaign of a candidate for local office in St. Petersburg, Florida, in 2019.

The focus of the alleged influence operation was to create the appearance of American popular support for Russia's annexation of territories in Ukraine. The use of the political groups to promote Russian propaganda continued after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.