Russian spy charged with working for Moscow to sow discord in US, Justice Department says

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A Russian foreign agent working on behalf of Moscow was indicted by a federal grand jury in Florida for running an “influence campaign” in the United States aimed at fostering political discord, authorities said. 

From 2014 to July 2022, Aleksandr Ionov of Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, ran his base of operations in St. Petersburg, Florida. He allegedly executed a campaign to sow discord and influence politics in American elections and spread pro-Kremlin propaganda, the Justice Department said. 

“The impact of Russian malign foreign influence cannot be overstated,” said Assistant Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. 

Ionov recruited various political groups in different states on behalf of the FSB and provided financial support and directed them to spread pro-Russian talking points. 

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He targeted one Florida group and paid for its leader to visit Russia in order to “communicate on future cooperation,” prosecutors said. Over seven years, he exercised control over senior members of the organization. 

Among the allegations in the indictment are that Ionov petitioned the United Nations, accusing the U.S. of genocide against African people, arranged meetings with Russian FSB operatives and traveled to and from the country from Tampa for the meetings and reported his progress back to FSB and Russian officials.

Other allegations include sending messages to the 2016 Russian Olympic team after it was revealed the athletes participated in a state-run doping campaign. 

In a news conference, the leader of a Florida-based political group that worked with Ionov, the St. Pete Uhuru group, defended Russia.

“The history of the African People’s Socialist Party is to unite with any forces that unite with the anti-colonial struggle,” Eritha ‘Akile’ Cainion said, Fox 29 reported. “And we feel that is a just struggle. What this is a propaganda campaign against Russia. We can have relationships with whoever we want.”

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