Feb 6, 2020 - World

Exclusive: Indicted Russian describes "troll farm" work

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.

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