Ionov’s influence efforts were allegedly directed and supervised by officers of the FSB, a Russian government intelligence service.
Now, authorities have added charges against four Americans who allegedly did Ionov’s bidding through groups including the African People’s Socialist Party and the Uhuru Movement in Florida, Black Hammer in Georgia, and an unidentified political group in California — part of an effort to influence American politics.
Authorities said Ionov sought to use the groups to promote Russia’s occupation of part of Ukraine, and the eventual invasion of that country in 2022.
The charged Americans are African People’s Socialist Party leaders Omali Yeshitela, Penny Joanne Hess, Jesse Nevel and Augustus C. Romain Jr., all of whom reside or used to reside in St. Petersburg, Fla.
“Russia’s foreign intelligence service allegedly weaponized our First Amendment rights — freedoms Russia denies its own citizens — to divide Americans and interfere in elections in the United States,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen said in a written statement. The Justice Department, he said, “will not hesitate to expose and prosecute those who sow discord and corrupt U.S. elections in service of hostile foreign interests, regardless of whether the culprits are U.S. citizens or foreign individuals abroad.”
The charges filed in federal court in Tampa accuse Ionov of running the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia, which U.S. officials say is funded by the Russian government and directed by FSB officers Aleksey Borisovich Sukhodolov and Yegor Sergeyevich Popov.
The three Russians and four Americans are charged with conspiring to have U.S. citizens act as illegal, unregistered agents of the Russian government.
When the FBI searched the homes and offices of some of the suspects last year, a member of the group said they were being targeted “because of our relationship with forces internationally who support the anti-colonial struggle,” adding that the group was being used “in a propaganda war against Russia.”
Separately Tuesday, the Justice Department filed another Russian influence case in the nation’s capital, accusing Natalia Burlinova, a Russian citizen, of conspiring with the FSB to recruit U.S. academics and researchers to travel to Russia as part of a public diplomacy program called Meeting Russia. The program, authorities say, was funded by the Russian government and designed to promote Russian national interests.
Burlinova is accused of helping the FSB gather information on Americans without registering her work on behalf of the Russian government.
“The defendant is accused of subverting our foreign agent notification laws to promote Russian national interests here in the United States, concealing from the public that her recruitment efforts were funded by a Russian security service,” said U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves in a written statement.