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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

Tech scrambles to derail inauguration threats

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Tech companies are sharing more information with law enforcement in a frantic effort to prevent violence around the inauguration, after the government was caught flat-footed by the Capitol siege.

Between the lines: Tech knows it will be held accountable for any further violence that turns out to have been planned online if it doesn't act to stop it.

Dave Lawler, author of World
46 mins ago - World

Uganda's election: Museveni declared winner, Wine claims fraud

Wine rejected the official results of the election. Photo: Sumy Sadruni/AFP via Getty

Yoweri Museveni was declared the winner of a sixth presidential term on Saturday, with official results giving him 59% to 35% for Bobi Wine, the singer-turned-opposition leader.

Why it matters: This announcement was predictable, as the election was neither free nor fair and Museveni had no intention of surrendering power after 35 years. But Wine — who posed a strong challenged to Museveni, particularly in urban areas, and was beaten and arrested during the campaign — has said he will present evidence of fraud. The big question is whether he will mobilize mass resistance in the streets.

Off the Rails

Episode 1: A premeditated lie lit the fire

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. Axios takes you inside the collapse of a president with a special series.

Episode 1: Trump’s refusal to believe the election results was premeditated. He had heard about the “red mirage” — the likelihood that early vote counts would tip more Republican than the final tallies — and he decided to exploit it.

"Jared, you call the Murdochs! Jason, you call Sammon and Hemmer!”