In a federal criminal complaint unsealed on Friday, a Russian national named Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova was charged in relation to an online influence campaign that targeted U.S. elections, including the 2016 presidential election, this year’s midterms, and even the 2020 vote.
The 44-year-old St. Petersburg resident was allegedly the chief accountant of the influence operations dubbed “Project Lakhta,” preparing multimillion-dollar budgets for operations funded by the Russian oligarch and Putin ally Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin. The operating budget for the first half of 2018 alone was $10 million, according to a U.S. Justice Department statement.
The operation allegedly generated divisive social media posts, targeting audiences on both sides of issues like immigration, LGBT rights, gun control, and the Confederate flag.
“Posting can be problematic due to time difference, but if you make your reposts in the morning St. Petersburg time, it works well with liberals–LGBT groups are often active at night,” read one document translated in the complaint. “Also, the conservative can view your repost when they wake up in the morning if you post it before you leave in the evening St. Petersburg time.”
The group allegedly created bogus Facebook personas, Facebook pages, and Twitter accounts to promote partisan viewpoints and even advertise real-world protests. Investigators received “exceptional cooperation from private sector companies, such as Facebook and Twitter,” according to the Justice Department.
Although the complaint mentions that U.S. people communicated with the fake accounts, there’s no allegation that any Americans knowingly participated in the influence operation, according to a Justice Department statement.
“We didn’t vote for Trump because of a couple of hashtags shilled by the Russians,” said one tweet allegedly posted by the Russian group. “We voted for Trump because he convinced us to vote for Trump. And we are ready to vote for Trump again in 2020!”