How widespread is Russian propaganda in the United States?
According to an unsealed indictment today in Tampa, Florida, various groups here were used from late 2014 until this March for a campaign to sow discord, spread pro-Russian propaganda and interfere with the elections. Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov of Moscow was assigned to orchestrate the campaign.
A press release from the US Department of Justice says Ionov worked on behalf of the Russian government and in collaboration with the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). He is the founder and chairman of the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia (AGMR), headquartered in Moscow and funded by the Russian government. Ionov used this organization to carry out the Russian influence campaign.
FSB agents asked Ionov for “agitations” according to evidence cited by the Ministry of Justice. Ionov allegedly recruited political groups in the United States to continue the campaign, identified as “American Political Group 1” in Florida, “American Political Group 2” in Georgia and “American Political Group 3” in California in the indictment. .
“Specifically, 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 Russian media,” the Justice Ministry said.
In May 2015, Ionov funded an all-expenses-paid trip to Russia for the unnamed leader of US political group 1, based in St. Petersburg, Florida. For the next seven years, Ionov “exercised leadership and control over the senior members” of the political group.
Although the group is not named by the Department of Justice, The New York Times connected him to the Uhuru movement, a group from St. Petersburg that is part of the African People’s Socialist Party.
The Uhuru movement “has had a long presence in St. Petersburg but had little success in local politics”, the newspaper said.
At the start of the plot, senior officials from the US Political Group 1 exchanged emails about Ionov working on behalf of the Russian government, according to the Justice Department. They even said they believed Ionov’s group was aiming to “use forces inside the United States to sew [sic] division within the United States.
Indeed, Ionov is accused of using the “American Political Group 1” to create a “four-city protest tour” in support of a “Petition on the crime of genocide against the African people in the United States. “, which he had previously submitted to the United Nations. under the direction of Ionov. Additionally, Ionov “supervised” a member of the group to run in a local election.
After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, the US political group 1 “repeatedly hosted Ionov by videoconference to discuss the war”, and during these conferences he “falsely stated that anyone supporting Ukraine also supported Nazism and white supremacy,” according to the indictment. .
Ionov paid for members of the American political group 2, based in Atlanta, Georgia, to travel to San Francisco, California to demonstrate at the headquarters of a social media company that had imposed restrictions on posts supporting the March’s invasion of Ukraine by Russia. He also sent the band members designs for protest signs.
“The main objective of the California-based American Political Group 3 was to promote California’s secession from the United States,” the Justice Department said. Ionov supported the group’s protest at the California Capitol in Sacramento and attempted to physically enter the governor’s office in early 2018.
“Ionov allegedly orchestrated a brazen influence campaign, turning American political groups and American citizens into instruments of the Russian government,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “The Department of Justice will not allow Russia to illegally sow division and spread disinformation inside the United States.”
U.S. Attorney Roger B. Handberg of the Central District of Florida said an investigation into Russian propaganda efforts in the United States with the Federal Bureau of Investigation is underway.
“The impact of Russia’s malign foreign influence cannot be overstated,” said Deputy Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigations Division. “The FBI will aggressively pursue any foreign government that attempts to divide American citizens and poison our democratic process.”
According to the Rand CorporationRussia’s approach to propaganda underwent a “remarkable evolution” during its 2008 foray into Georgia.
“We characterize the contemporary Russian model of propaganda as ‘the fire hose of lies’ because of two of its distinguishing features: a high number of channels and messages and a shameless willingness to spread partial truths or outright fictions. “, said Rand.
So far, Ionov has been accused of conspiring to get American citizens to act as unlawful agents of the Russian government. He faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison if convicted.
As the Russian invasion of Ukraine drags on, the United States has sent billions of dollars in monetary support and military equipment to Ukraine. According to a July 25 victim update Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 5,237 civilians have been killed and 7,035 injured since the start of the invasion.
This Wednesday, a resolution passed in the US Senate claiming that the nation “considers the actions of the Russian government, under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin, to be acts of terrorism.” It also calls on the State Department to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism.
However, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States had already begun to treat Russia as a terrorist state in practice.
“The costs that we and other countries have imposed on Russia are entirely consistent with the consequences that would flow from being designated as a state sponsor of terrorism. So the practical effects of what we do are the same,” he said wednesday.