He paid for the protests and interfered in the elections: the Russian was accused of spreading propaganda in the United States

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A Russian with a trimmed beard and a graphic T-shirt appeared live on Florida's YouTube political group in March, less than three weeks after Russia's invasion of Ukraine. He falsely stated that what happened was not an invasion and was accused of propaganda. What came of it, told The New York Times. “He paid for the protests and interfered in the elections: the Russian was accused of spreading propaganda in the United States” />

Photo: iStock

« I would like to appeal to free people all over the world to tell you that Western propaganda is lying when it says that Russia has invaded Ukraine,” said the Russian.

His name is Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov , and he calls himself a “human rights activist”.

But federal officials say Ionov was working for the Russian government — organizing a decades-long influence campaign to use US political groups to spread Russian propaganda and interfere in US elections.

The Justice Department said that Ionov was accused of conspiring to force American citizens to act as illegal agents of the Russian government.

Ionov, 32, who lives in Moscow and is not in custody, has been accused of recruiting three political groups in Florida, Georgia and California since December 2014, providing them with financial support and instructing them to publish Russian propaganda. The Treasury Department sanctioned him.

David Walker, chief agent of the FBI field office in Tampa, called it “one of the most egregious violations we have seen from the Russian government aimed at destabilizing and undermining confidence in American democracy.”

According to the 24-page indictment, in 2017 and 2019, Ionov supported the campaigns of two local government candidates in St. Petersburg, Florida. In 2019, he wrote to a Russian official that he “consulted every week” on one of the campaigns, according to the indictment.

“Our election campaign is unique in some way,” a Russian intelligence official wrote to Ionov, adding: “Are we the first in history?” Later, Ionov called a candidate, whose name does not appear in the indictment, “the one we are watching.”

In 2016, according to the indictment, Ionov paid for a local group to hold a protest four cities in support of the “Petition on the Crime of Genocide against Africans in the United States”, which the group had previously submitted to the UN at his direction.

“The goal is to increase discontent,” said Peter Strzok, a former senior FBI official. “They just wanted to fund the opposing forces. This is an inexpensive way to encourage social sharing. The goal is to create discord and division.”

The Russian government has long sought to sow division in the US, especially during the 2016 presidential campaign. Strzok said the Russians have been known to spread stories in an attempt to inject disinformation into the media ecosystem.

Federal investigators described Ionov as the founder and president of the Russian anti-globalization movement and said it was funded by the Russian government. They said Ionov worked with at least three Russian officials and with the FSB, Russia's intelligence service.

The indictment did not name US political groups, their leaders, or St. Petersberg, who were only identified as “unindicted accomplice 3” and “unindicted accomplice 4”. Ionov is the only person who is accused.

But leaders of the St. Petersburg-based Uhuru movement, which is part of the African People's Socialist Party, said federal agents ransacked their office and director's home as part of an investigation.

“They handcuffed me and my wife,” director Omali Yeshitela announced live on Facebook. He said he did not take Russian government money, but would not be “morally opposed” to accepting funds from the Russians or “anyone else who wants to support the black struggle.”

The indictment states that Ionov paid for the group's leaders' trip to Moscow in 2015, he wanted the group to be a “tool” of the Russian government.

“Yes, I was in Russia”, Yeshitela said on Facebook, without specifying when he was there and who paid for his trip. But at the same time he noticed that he was in other countries, including South Africa and Nicaragua.

In St. Petersburg, Akile Anahee of the Uhuru movement claimed that federal authorities had confiscated her car and other personal property.

She called the investigation an attack on the long-standing Uhuru movement in St. Petersburg, but does not have much success in local politics.

“We can have relations with whomever we want,” she said, specifying that “Uhuru” openly supports Russia in the war with Ukraine. “Yes, we support Russia.”

Anai ran for city council in 2017 and 2019 under the name Erita Keynion. She received about 18% of the vote in the second round of the 2019 election.

Ionov is accused, among other things, of leading an unidentified political group in Sacramento that advocated the separation of California from the United States. The indictment alleges that he helped fund a 2018 protest at the State Capitol and urged the leader of the group to try to get into the governor's office. group in Atlanta, paid for its members to travel to San Francisco to protest at the headquarters of a social network that restricted pro-Russian messages about the invasion of Ukraine. According to the indictment, Ionov even provided poster designs for the protest.

The indictment states that after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Ionov told his Russian intelligence partners that he had asked a local group to support Russia in “information war unleashed” by the West.

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