US sanctions Russian intelligence officers over elections interference
Jun 23, 2023, 10:28 AM
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. on Friday imposed sanctions on two Russian intelligence officers who supervised two officers who were recently indicted by the Justice Department for their involvement in the Kremlin’s attempts to influence a local election in the United States.
Yegor Popov, a Russian intelligence officer, was sanctioned Friday. He served as a primary handler of Alexander Ionov, a Russian operative who was charged by the Justice Department last year with recruiting political groups in the U.S. to advance pro-Russia propaganda, including about the invasion of Ukraine.
U.S. authorities say Ionov recruited political groups in Florida, Georgia and California and directed them to spread pro-Russia talking points. Ionov, who operated an entity called the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia, paid for group members to attend government-funded conferences in Russia, as well as a protest in the U.S. against social media efforts to suppress online support for the invasion.
Popov also communicated with Russian national Natalia Burlinova, who was charged in April with conspiring with Russian intelligence to recruit American academics and researchers to attend programs that advanced Russian interests.
Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control also sanctioned Alexei Sukhodolov, who supervised Popov. Sukhodolov also worked with Ionov to conduct foreign malign influence operations around the world, including in the U.S., Ukraine, Spain, the U.K. and Ireland, according to Treasury.
The department said Russia’s efforts to influence elections includes using front organizations, seeking access to foreign officials, and recruiting people around the world “who are positioned to amplify and reinforce Russia’s disinformation efforts to further its goals of destabilizing democratic societies.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said “to safeguard our democracy, as well as help protect our allies and partners, the United States will continue to act to deter and disrupt the Kremlin’s malign influence operations.”
Brian Nelson, Treasury’s under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said Russia “continues to target a key pillar of democracy around the world — free and fair elections.”
“The United States will not tolerate threats to our democracy, and today’s action builds on the whole of government approach to protect our system of representative government, including our democratic institutions and elections processes,” he said.
The threat of foreign nations seeking to meddle in U.S. elections remains a top concern.
Since the 2016 election and the detection of Russian hackers scanning state voter registration systems, election officials across federal, state and local levels have been working to shore up their defenses. Congress has provided funds to assist with boosting security in state and local election offices.
Although there has been no evidence of any voting system data being manipulated or changed, Iranian hackers in 2020 obtained confidential voter data and used it to send misleading emails seeking to spread misinformation and influence the election. Another attempt by Iranian hackers in 2020 to access a system used by a local government to publish election results was thwarted.
Cassidy reported from Atlanta.