Russian woman accused of conspiring to interfere in midterm elections

Credit: Alex Brandon

Credit: Alex Brandon

A criminal complaint unsealed Friday showed that officials have charged a Russian woman with conspiracy to interfere in the U.S. political system, including efforts to meddle in the upcoming midterm elections.

Russian national Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, 44, is accused of conspiring with other people involved in a “Russian influence campaign to interfere with U.S. democracy,” said John Demers, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. Officials said in the complaint that she worked for the same Russian social media troll farm that was indicted in February by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Authorities accused Khusyaynova of managing the financing of Project Lakhta, a Russian umbrella effort funded by Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin. Authorities said in February that the businessman and companies that he controlled previously “spent significant funds” to influence American politics. Federal officials said Project Lakhta had an operating budget topping $35 million between January 2016 and June 2018, although only a portion of those funds went toward campaigns in the U.S.

“The strategic goal of this alleged conspiracy, which continues to this day, is to sow discord in the U.S. political system and to undermine faith in our democratic institutions,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

In court documents, officials alleged that Project Lakhta attempted to conduct “information warfare against the United States” through payments to activists, for advertisements on social media and other activities. The group disguised its Russian ties, taking “extraordinary steps to make it appear that they were ordinary American political activists,”’ including the use of virtual private networks, authorities said.

“Our foreign adversaries continue their efforts to interfere in our democracy by creating social and political division, spreading distrust in our political system, and advocating for the support or defeat of particular political candidates,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said.

In the complaint, authorities did not allege that Khusyaynova or her conspirators made an impact on any elections or that any Americans were involved in the scheme.

The Justice Department disclosed the criminal complaint soon after U.S. intelligence agencies said in a joint statement that they were concerned about efforts by Russia, China and Iran to influence U.S. voters and policy.

The agencies said the "ongoing campaigns" could take many forms. Examples include attempts to influence voters through social media, sponsoring content in English language media such as the Russian outlet RT, or "seeding disinformation through sympathetic spokespersons regarding political candidates and disseminating foreign propaganda."

The Associated Pres contributed to this report.

About the Author