DOJ charges three Russians running 'disinformation network'
A prominent Russian legislator and two of his aides have been charged with running a disinformation campaign targeting U.S. citizens, including lawmakers, for several years, the Department of Justice announced Thursday.
Driving the news: Aleksandr Babakov, 59, and two staffers allegedly operated an "international foreign influence and disinformation network to advance the interests of Russia," between 2012 and 2017, according to an indictment filed in Manhattan federal court.
- The indictment also accused the three Russians of conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions, sabotage diplomatic ties to allies and "promote Russia’s illicit actions designed to destroy the sovereignty of Ukraine."
- Babakov's staff members, Aleksandr Nikolayevich Vorobev, 52, and Mikhail Alekseyevich Plisyuk, 58, were named in the federal indictment, as well.
- Babakov, Vorobev and Plisyuk also "schemed to affect U.S. policy towards Russia through staged events, paid propaganda and the recruitment of at least one American citizen (CC-1) to do their bidding in an unofficial capacity," per the DOJ announcement.
What they're saying: “Today’s indictment demonstrates that Russia’s illegitimate actions against Ukraine extend beyond the battlefield, as political influencers under Russia’s control allegedly plotted to steer geopolitical change in Russia’s favor through surreptitious and illegal means in the United States and elsewhere in the West. Such malign foreign interference will be exposed, and we will pursue justice against its perpetrators," said Damian Williams, a U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
- Between 2012 and 2017, the FBI said the Russians attempted to woo American lawmakers by offering “all expenses paid” trips to Europe and sought to orchestrate meetings to "strengthen the ties of cooperation between" Russia and Washington, per the indictment.
- In March 2017, the accused Russians offered "free travel" to a U.S. Congressmember on behalf of the Russian legislator for a conference in Russia-controlled Crimea that Babakov had ties to.
- The big picture: The DOJ has been clamping down on Russian criminal activity amid sweeping U.S. sanctions on Russian oligarchs following the Kremlin's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.