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Three Russians among seven people indicted by US Grand Jury over alleged election influence campaign

Russia's President Vladimir Putin. (Alexei Nikolsky/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS/Abaca Press/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A federal grand jury in the U.S. state of Florida has indicted four U.S. citizens and three Russian nationals over allegations that they took part in a “malign campaign” to influence U.S. voters.

The U.S. Justice Department announced the indictment on April 18, saying the seven individuals had worked in conjunction with the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) to conduct the campaign, which among other things attempted to create the appearance of American popular support for Russia’s annexation of territories in Ukraine and other Russian propaganda.

The indictment alleges that the Russian defendants recruited, funded, and directed U.S. political groups to act as agents of the Russian government and “sow discord and spread pro-Russian propaganda.”

The indictment adds charges to Moscow resident Aleksandr Ionov, who was charged in July with orchestrating an election interference campaign using political groups in Florida, Georgia, and California. He has called the charge “nonsense.” The indictment released on April 18 also names FSB officers Aleksei Sukhodolov and Yegor Popov.

Ionov founded and served as president of the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia (AGMR), an organization headquartered in Moscow and funded by the Russian government. He allegedly used AGMR to carry out Russia’s malign influence campaign under the direction and supervision of Moscow-based FSB officers Sukhodolov and Popov.

Ionov allegedly recruited members of political groups within the United States to participate in the influence campaign and “act as agents of Russia in the United States.”

The groups included the African People’s Socialist Party and the Uhuru Movement (collectively known as the APSP) in Florida, Black Hammer in the U.S. state of Georgia, and a political group in California identified only as U.S. Political Group 3.

The U.S. residents indicted along with the Russians are Omali Yeshitela, Penny Joanne Hess, and Jesse Nevel. All three live in St. Petersburg and in St. Louis, Missouri, and serve as officers in APSP.

The fourth American, Augustus C. Romain Jr., also known as Gazi Kodzo Romain, resides in St. Petersburg and Atlanta and is the founder of Black Hammer.

Additionally, a separate case in Washington charged Russian national Natalia Burlinova “with conspiring with an FSB officer to act as an illegal agent of Russia in the United States.” Burlinova, a resident of Moscow, conspired with an FSB officer to recruit U.S. citizens from academic and research institutions to travel to Russia to participate in a public diplomacy program called Meeting Russia.

The Justice Department said Ionov on February 24, 2022 — the day Russia invaded Ukraine — allegedly emailed Nevel an urgent message containing pro-Russian talking points in support of the invasion.

Ionov in May 2020 allegedly sent a request to Yeshitela and members of other U.S. political groups urging them to make statements in support of the independence of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, an area in eastern Ukraine held by Russia-backed separatists.

“Thereafter, throughout March 2022, the APSP repeatedly hosted Ionov via video conference to discuss the war, during which Ionov falsely stated that anyone who supported Ukraine also supported Naziism and white supremacy, and Yeshitela and another APSP member allegedly made statements of solidarity with the Russian government,” the department said.