ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) — A Russian national has been federally indicted for allegedly using a St. Petersburg political activist group in an attempt to influence elections.
Members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the St. Petersburg Police Department executed search warrants related to the indictment Friday morning at the Uhuru House in St. Petersburg.
Russian citizen indicted
According to unsealed indictment documents from the U.S. Department of Justice, Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov, a Russian citizen, is the founder and president of the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia (AGMR), which is headquartered in Moscow. The group is funded by grants from the Russian government and, according to its website, advocates for “the full sovereignty of nation-states including sovereignty of Russia as an independent player on the political, economic and cultural world stage.”
The indictment only names Ionov directly, but states multiple other individuals played a part in a strategy to “publish pro-Russian propaganda, as well as other information designed to cause dissension in the United States and to promote secessionist ideologies.” The document from the DOJ calls the other individuals who have yet to be identified members of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) and “co-conspirators.” The FSB is described by the DOJ as “Russia’s internal security and counterintelligence service” and is headquartered in Moscow.
The individuals listed in the indictment are accused of funding political groups in the United States, including the Uhuru House in St. Petersburg, to work with foreign agents of Russia in the U.S. and with the “supervision” and “support” of the FSB, since “at least as early as October of 2013.”
Groups around the world
According to the DOJ, Ionov functioned as a point of contact for “U.S. separatist groups” in Florida and California, as well as others across the globe in countries such as Ukraine, Spain, the United Kingdom and Ireland. Members of the political groups were “recruited” to attend gatherings in Russia that were sponsored by AGMR and the Russian government to “encourage the participating groups to advocate for separating from their home countries,” or seceding.
After the conferences, the DOJ said “Ionov entered into partnership with some of the U.S. separatist groups” before “exercising direction or control over these groups on behalf of the FSB.” Ionov then monitored and reported on the groups’ activities to the FSB, according to the indictment.
Actions taken by the groups and Ionov, as described by the indictment, were intended to “coordinate coverage of these groups’ activities in Russian media outlets” and “further Russian interests” in the U.S.
The federal indictment says the members of the groups that “co-conspired” with Ionov were fully aware that Ionov and AGMR “were agents of the Russian government.” Four of the multiple “unindicted co-conspirators” listed in the document are U.S. citizens living in St. Petersburg, while others are residents in Atlanta and California. Another has residences in Moscow and California and is also a U.S. citizen.
The unindicted co-conspirator with dual residences founded one of the multiple political groups involved with Ionov, according to the DOJ. As part of their work together, Ionov allegedly provided funding to the group, listed as UIC-6, to “support protests and political activities within the United States.” The group traveled across the country “to engage in these activities.” Ionov provided funds for the group to do so “on behalf of the FSB, with the stated goal of causing turmoil within the United States.”
The indictment says none of the FSB officers listed, nor Ionov, were “duly accredited diplomatic or consular officers,” nor had they “officially and publicly acknowledged and sponsored officials or representatives of the Russian Federation,” or stated they were sponsored staff members or employees of the country.
The DOJ describes the actions themselves as being part of a conspiracy.
According to the indictment, “beginning on an unknown date, but at least as early as in or around December of 2014,” Ionov is said to “knowingly and willfully combine, conspire, and agree with other persons” to “commit an offense against the United States” and act as a foreign agent for the Russian Federation, without telling the Attorney General, which is required by federal law.
Ionov is accused of using encrypted electronic messaging applications and in-person meetings with multiple FSB officers and a Russian official, among others, to “develop and execute a plan to identify and exploit connections with United States political groups.”
Part of the conspiracy was to further Russia’s interests, according to the DOJ. Described as engaging in “agitprop,” also called “agitation and propaganda,” Ionov and other individuals “acting at his direction” would write and publish articles that “contained Russian propaganda and disinformation,” and would then send those articles by email or through encrypted electronic messages to multiple political groups in the U.S., federal officials say. The groups were given instructions to publish the articles in one group’s media outlets, according to indictment.
Ionov also authored articles that “advanced” Russian Federation interests, as well as spoke on behalf of the Russian Federation during “online multimedia presentations,” the DOJ says. He is also accused of making public statements supporting Russian interests.
The indictment says the political groups in the U.S. received funding, consulting, instruction and promotion in Russian media outlets which supported the political groups’ “protests, political campaigns, and other actions within the United States.” To further the Russian agenda, Ionov allegedly used his “connections within Russian state-supported media to promote international awareness” of the activities he had organized for the political groups he was working with.
Starting in 2015, the DOJ says Ionov invited resident members of the political groups to travel to Russia from Tampa and meet. In August, Ionov had messages sent to some of the unindicted co-conspirators, directing them to write a petition to the United Nations alleging that the U.S. had committed genocide against the African people, officials say.
Ionov then allegedly sent $500 as a donation to one of the groups, and informed the unindicted co-conspirators that he had done so. On Aug. 26, 2015, the DOJ says one of the political groups posted a Change.org petition called “Petition on crime of Genocide against African People in the United States.” The petition was promoted on the organization’s news site as well.
Two days later, on Aug. 28, 2015, the indictment states that Ionov told the co-conspirators the petition had been translated to Russian and “would spread over Russian media outlets.” Ionov was told on Sept. 5, 2015 that the petition had been sent to the U.N. Secretary General and the U.N. General Assembly, the indictment says.
The DOJ says an unindicted co-conspirator traveled from Tampa to Moscow on Sept. 16 to participate in a “Dialogue of Nations,” which U.S. officials describe as “a separatist conference in Moscow.” The event was hosted by Ionov and AGMR, and funded by the Russian government, according to the indictment.
The attending co-conspirator told his political group that AGMR “is a solid institution of Russian politic” and clearly “an instrument of the Russian government,” according to the DOJ indictment. That person also told the organization that this fact did not “disturb us.” Federal documents say Ionov sent one unindicted co-conspirator a so-called “Guarantee Letter,” in early 2016, signed by Ionov, which promised to pay one group $12,000 for a multi-city tour related to the African genocide petition.
In February 2016, the DOJ says Ionov wired “approximately 43,476.20” to the same group. The documents add that another $3,476.20 wire was transferred later in the same month. Several months later, in July 2016, Ionov allegedly urged the co-conspirators to make statements asking for the Russian Olympic team to be allowed to compete, following a disclosure that they had been part of a “state-run doping program.”
The statement was titled “Imperialists Ban Russia from 2016 Olympic Games: [U.S. Political Group 1] says ‘let Russia play.'”
Years, and thousands of dollars of funding later, as the conspiracy continued, the DOJ says Ionov began to get U.S. political groups involved in local elections, and later began coaching them on what position to take with conflicts between Russia and Ukraine.
Alleged attempt to influence local elections
In the summer of 2017, the indictment says Ionov had the political group in Florida get involved in the St. Petersburg elections. The co-conspirator who Ionov worked with was told to campaign on “reparations” and seek local office, the federal documents say. Ionov allegedly offered campaign financing from AGMR as a form of assistance.
Another attempt at winning local election began in 2019, according to the DOJ, with Ionov and AGMR providing political consultations weekly and helping raise money for a campaign office. In August 2019, federal officials say the candidate was congratulated by Ionov for making it past the primary election for local office. Later, in 2020, unindicted co-conspirators were allegedly invited to another Dialogue of Nations, which the DOJ called a “separatist conference in Donetsk, Ukraine.”
In May 2020, the DOJ says Ionov had one of the co-conspirators receive a request from “Russia, the Donetsk People’s Republic” asking if “friends of the Donetsk People’s Republic” would send videos to congratulate residents as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic preventing mass gatherings.
The same month, federal officials say Ionov sent a message to an FSB officer from a co-conspirator with a link to a video fulfilling that exact request. The DOJ says the Donetsk People’s Republic was “Russian-backed.”
By June 2020, the DOJ says Ionov told his contacts at FSB that political protests in the U.S. undertaken by one of the political groups had included “conferences that were ‘consistently sponsored’ by AGMR.” Informational support was allegedly provided by Ionov, and activities had occurred in more than 40 cities, with “activists…taking to the streets.” Political activities continued across the U.S. in 2021, the DOJ says.
Conflict with Ukraine
On Feb. 24, 2022, federal officials say Ionov sent a message to his co-conspirators called “URGENT MESSAGE FROM THE ANTIGLOBALIST MOVEMENT OF RUSSIA.”
According to the DOJ, the message read “the war with Ukraine has began.”
The message continued, saying “Russia has exhausted all possible tools to prevent conflict” with the other sovereign nation and that “we must remember that the war began 8 years ago, when the US and the EU brought new leadership to power in Kiev” and blamed “pro-Western neo-fascists who burned people in Odessa and shot thousands of civilians in the Donbas” region.
In March 2022, one of the unindicted co-conspirators allegedly gave a video presentation saying that the political group she was part of had “spoken out in opposition” to the crisis in Ukraine alongside leaders from Venezuela, China, Iran, Cuba and Nicaragua, and calling the crisis itself “U.S. imperialist-created.” The video message said they were speaking out in solidarity with the Russian people, elected government and leadership, according to the DOJ.