Kremlin agents meddled in Florida election with eyes on presidential race: indictment
Russia's President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting in the Kremlin in Astrakhan on June 4, 2014 [AFP]

A federal grand jury charged four U.S. citizens and three Russian nationals with working with Kremlin intelligence services to conduct a multiyear political influence campaign.

The superseding indictment alleges that Russian national Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov, founder of the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia (AGMR), used his organization under the direction of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and three Moscow-based intelligence officers to recruit, fund and direct pro-Kremlin propaganda within the U.S. with the help of four Florida-based activists.

Ionov recruited four St. Petersburg members of the African People’s Socialist Party and the Uhuru Movement, which have been active in civil rights for decades in Florida, and another political group in California to generate support for Russia's annexation of Ukraine and other Kremlin priorities.

The indictment charges APSP chairman and founder Omali Yeshitela, APSP group leader Penny Joanne Hess, APSP member and former St. Petersburg mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel; and APSP leader and Black Hammer founder Augustus C. Romain Jr., also known as Gazi Kodzo.

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The operation also involved Moscow-based FSB officers Aleksey Borisovich Sukhodolov and Yegor Sergeyevich Popov, who were also charged in the indictment.

Ionov, Sukhodolov and Popov allegedly conspired to secretly fund and "supervise" a local 2019 race in St. Petersburg, which Popov referred to as "our election campaign," hoped that those efforts would extend beyond that cycle and eventually include the U.S. presidential election -- the FSB’s “main topic of the year.”

The operation also worked to create the appearance of American popular support for Russia's annexation of Ukraine, which included a video statement from Yeshitela congratulating the Russia-backed breakaway state called Donetsk People’s Republic, and APSP frequently hosted Ionov on video conferences to discuss the Kremlin invasion of Ukraine.

Ionov, Sukhodolov, Popov, Yeshitela, Hess, Nevel and Romain were charged with conspiring to have U.S. citizens act as illegal agents of the Russian government within the U.S. without providing prior notification to the attorney general, as required by law, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison if convicted.

Yeshitela, Hess and Nevel are also charged with acting as agents of Russia within the U.S. without such prior notification, which carries a possible 10-year term if convicted.