DOJ indictment accuses Russian national of turning Americans into tools of Russian government

The Justice Department unsealed an indictment on Friday, alleging that a Russian national coordinated a “malign foreign influence campaign” meant to spread propaganda and influence elections in the U.S.

Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov of Moscow has been charged with conspiring to have U.S. citizens act as illegal agents on behalf of Russia’s government and he faces up to five years in prison if convicted. 

Ionov is accused of targeting three U.S. political groups in Florida, Georgia and California in an effort to further the interests of Moscow through direct funding for specific action, supporting them financially and having them publish propaganda while working with the Russian Federal Security Service (RFSS), according to an indictment, the Justice Department said in a press release.

“Ionov used his control over” the leaders of a political group based in St. Petersburg, Fla., “to foster discord within the United States, to spread pro-Russian propaganda under the guise of a domestic political organization, and to interfere in local elections,” the DOJ alleged, according to the release.

According to the DOJ, the indictment also alleged that another political group based in Atlanta had members’ travel costs covered to go to San Francisco “to protest at the headquarters of a social media company that had placed content restrictions on posts supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”

It is not currently clear if Ionov is represented by an attorney.

Congress has previously documented Russia’s involvement in U.S. politics. 

A bipartisan report by the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2019 found that Russia had been involved in election interference against the U.S. for at least several years, writing then that “the Russian government directed extensive activity, beginning in at least 2014 and carrying into at least 2017, against U.S. election infrastructure at the state and local level.”