Federal prosecutors charged Elena Khusyaynova, a Russian national, with conspiracy to defraud the United States on Friday for her role in a Russian influence campaign aimed at inflaming American political tensions ahead of the 2018 midterms. Khusyaynova is the first foreign national charged with interfering in the upcoming November elections.
In court filings, the Justice Department identifies Khusyaynova as the chief accountant for “Project Lakhta,” an influence campaign funded by Russian oligarch Yevgeniy Prigozhin through two firms he owns. The project’s conspirators used accounts on Facebook and Twitter to post inflammatory content related to immigration, civil rights, gun control, and other divisive issues in American politics.
Russian conspirators were forthright about their goals, which sought to create “political intensity” by boosting “radical groups” and “oppositional social movements,” according to messages quoted by prosecutors. Another conspirator said their goal was to “effectively aggravate the conflict between minorities and the rest of the population.” As with previous Russian influence campaign, the conspirators impersonated Americans on both ends of the ideological spectrum.
The charges were brought by federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia, which often handles national-security cases. The investigation appears to be independent of special counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russian interference during the 2016 elections. Friday’s charges follow the Justice Department’s announcement in July that it would notify the public when it uncovered foreign influence campaigns targeting the American democratic process.
Khusyaynova, who resides in St. Petersburg, is not in U.S. custody. The absence of an extradition treaty between Moscow and Washington makes it unlikely that she will ever face trial for the charges. But the indictment means she could be arrested if she travels to a third country that would be willing to hand her over to U.S. authorities.