2020 election
Dalton Carraway via Unsplash

US sanctions Russian citizens for trying to influence elections

The Department of the Treasury imposed sanctions Friday on two Russian intelligence officers who “played a significant role” in the Kremlin’s attempts to interfere in elections both within the United States and globally.

Russian nationals Yegor Popov, 31 and Aleksei Sukhodolov, 49, were part of the so-called “co-optees” network recruited by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) to “support Kremlin-directed influence operations against the U.S. and its allies.”

The influence operations refer to covert activities conducted by the Kremlin or entities aligned with its interests to manipulate or shape opinions, policies, or events in other countries — often involving propaganda, disinformation campaigns, and cyber warfare.

Popov and Sukhodolov were previously indicted by the Department of Justice. As a result of the sanctions, any property in the U.S. would be frozen, and any financial transactions with them are prohibited.

The sanctions are directly linked to the designation of Aleksandr Ionov and Natalya Burlinova as co-optees of the FSB in July. Both of them frequently communicated with Popov and Sukhodolov to gather information related to their “foreign malign influence activities in the U.S. and elsewhere.”

For example, Ionov compiled reports for Popov and other FSB officers about the activities of several political groups in the U.S., as well as Kremlin-backed individuals who ran as candidates in local U.S. elections. In the summer and fall of 2019, Ionov and Popov communicated about Ionov's support of a candidate in a local election in St. Petersburg, Florida, who won in the primary contest.

Popov worked with Burlinova from as early as 2015. He provided her with a list of U.S. citizens and proposed possible approaches to figure out their attitudes towards Russia. Burlinova described her influence over these individuals as “soft power.”

Sukhodolov also worked with Ionov and Popov to conduct foreign malign influence operations around the world, including in the U.S., Ukraine, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Ireland.

According to the Department of Treasury statement, the Kremlin often uses social media as a tool for disseminating disinformation to confuse and mislead citizens and “advance Russia’s operational and geopolitical goals.”

“The Kremlin continues to target a key pillar of democracy around the world — free and fair elections,” said Brian E. Nelson, undersecretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, adding that this interference is something the U.S. “will not tolerate.”

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Daryna Antoniuk

Daryna Antoniuk

is a reporter for Recorded Future News based in Ukraine. She writes about cybersecurity startups, cyberattacks in Eastern Europe and the state of the cyberwar between Ukraine and Russia. She previously was a tech reporter for Forbes Ukraine. Her work has also been published at Sifted, The Kyiv Independent and The Kyiv Post.