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Some of the Internet Research Agency's handiwork. Illustration: Axios Visuals

Sergey Pavlovich Polozov says he was so surprised to find his name included in special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictments that he told himself it couldn’t be him — until he saw a more detailed document that included his date of birth.

Why it matters: Mueller’s indictment accused Polozov of providing “material and technological support” to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), the St. Petersburg-based “troll factory” on the front lines of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.

In an interview for the Russian documentary InterNYET: A History of the Russian Internet,” shared exclusively with Axios, Polozov scoffs at the idea that he and the other 12 Russians indicted could have influenced American voters.

  • “My position is pretty simple,” Polozov tells interviewer Andrey Loshak. "I believe that what occurs in another country, it’s pretty hard for me to influence it.” 

Polozov essentially admits to one of the accusations against him — that, in Mueller's words, he “oversaw the procurement” of proxy servers that “masked the firm’s location when conducting operations within the United States.”

  • He says he “configured” but did not purchase servers, but claims not to know why the IRA needed them.
  • Russians working for the IRA posed as Americans, sharing provocative posts aimed at sowing disruption and boosting Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.

While the indictment describes Polozov as the IRA’s IT manager, he says his company “carried out a number of orders” for the agency, but he was never an employee.

  • He compares his work for the IRA to that of an SEO consultant, and says “blaming me is the same as blaming Zuckerberg for creating Facebook.”
  • He says he did not usually work out of the IRA’s headquarters but “when I came there it differed nothing from an ordinary office with normal people who smiled, went in, smoked, talked.” 
  • It was not “a Gestapo, or some sort of thing,” he says, but “quite an acceptable, decent place."

While Polozov denies having knowingly played a part in a Russian campaign against the U.S., he's no fan of America.

  • “The history of America,” he contends, “shows that robbers came there, all the people who didn’t succeed, and drove out the indigenous people and proclaimed themselves a superpower.”
  • While America wants to check Russia influence, Polozov says, his country "has only defended itself” over the past century, never attacking anyone or starting a war. 
    • Reality check: That vision of recent Russian history does not stand up to basic scrutiny.
  • Deflecting a question about Russian propaganda, he says he favors “patriotic” media over “opposition” media, and he believes Russians are better served by news that portrays their country positively.

The state of play: Polozov says he’s surviving just fine under indictment, but won’t travel abroad for fear of extradition to the U.S.

  • That's a "serious loss" for his family. Fortunately, he says, Russia is "such a big country" — and he'd always wanted to visit Siberia. 

The backstory: The Russian-language interview was conducted in February 2019 by Loshak for his Current Time TV documentary, “InterNYET: A History of the Russian Internet.” The interview will be released this week.

Go deeper

Scoop: Over 200 papers quietly sue Big Tech

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Newspapers all over the country have been quietly filing lawsuits against Google and Facebook for the past year, alleging the two firms monopolized the digital ad market for revenue that would otherwise go to local news. 

Why it matters: What started as a small-town effort to take a stand against Big Tech has turned into a national movement, with over 200 newspapers involved across dozens of states.

Axios-Ipsos poll: Shrugging off Omicron

Expand chart
Data: Axios/Ipsos poll; Note: The last question only includes 589 employed respondents; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Most Americans aren't willing to make big changes in their behavior to minimize the risk from the Omicron variant, like avoiding indoor restaurant dining or cancelling their holiday travel plans, according to a new Axios-Ipsos poll.

The big picture: The poll found support for some broader public responses, including one — travel bans aimed at people from other countries — that was widely supported by people across the political spectrum. But it found that Americans are only willing to do so much on their own.

Rohingya refugees sue Facebook over Myanmar hate speech

Internally displaced Rohingya peoples at a market area in the Baw Du Pha IDP Camp in Sittwe in Myanmar's western Rakhine state. Photo: STR/AFP via Getty Images

Rohingya refugees accused Facebook in a $150 million lawsuit filed Monday of amplifying hate speech against the persecuted minority Muslims in Myanmar via algorithms and failing to take down inflammatory posts.

Why it matters: Thousands of Rohingya Muslims have been killed in Myanmar in what the United Nations deemed a genocidal campaign. Tens of thousands of others have been displaced, notably following a massacre by Myanmar's military in 2017.