Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s latest indictment details Russia’s complex and wide-ranging campaign to influence the 2016 election, and focuses on 13 individuals, including oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, known among Russia media as "Putin’s favorite chef" for hosting many of the president’s lavish dinners.
The indictment also focuses on the activities of the infamous St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency, which “engaged in operations to interfere with elections and political processes.” Specialists working for the agency, which carried out offensive cyber operations, were instructed to "use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump—we support them)."
The 13 nationals together comprised a sophisticated and well-funded operation that rivals the size of many modern newsrooms. According to the indictment, the Internet Research Agency "was headed by a management group and organized into departments, including: a graphics department; a data analysis department; a search-engine optimization department; an information-technology department to maintain the digital infrastructure used in the operations; and a finance department to budget and allocate funding."
Prigozhin is believed to be the mastermind financier behind Russia’s troll army that spammed social media with fake news, helped organize political demonstrations, and harassed U.S. journalists.
His companies, Concord Management and Consulting, as well as Concord Catering, are believed to have financed the operation, at one point, doling out $1.25 million a month in salaries and bonuses to its operatives, according to Mueller’s findings.
Here’s what we know about the 13 Russians, who allegedly helped to carry out the Internet Research Agency's “interference operations targeting the United States.”
The Russian oligarch, believed to run in Putin’s elusive “inner circle,” and dubbed “the chef” is accused of being the chief financial backer of the Internet Research Agency's multi-pronged influence campaign. Starting as early as 2014, the operation allegedly paid for by Prigozhin, sought to attack the U.S. by “impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of government,” according to the indictment.
Underground opposition leader and anti-corruption blogger Alexey Navalny has accused “the chef” of benefiting politically and financially from being a member of the Russian president’s illusive inner circle.
Prigozhin has humble roots. After serving nine years in prison for organized crime related offenses, including fraud and robbery, according to biography published by Meduza, an independent outlet covering Russia, he turned to the restaurant industry, selling hot dogs before eventually breaking into haute cuisine.
In 2001, Putin visited one of Prigozhin’s St. Petersburg restaurants, and where the restaurateur reportedly personally served Putin. From there, the pair’s friendship seemingly blossomed.
“Vladimir Putin saw how I built up my business from nothing,” Prigozhin told a St.-Petersburg-based publication, according to Meduza.
Prigozhin is also famously litigious. In 2016, the Russian culinary king filed 20 lawsuits against Google and other internet companies for refusing to remove information about him that appeared on their platforms.
Yet news of the U.S. indictment didn’t seem to fluster him Friday. Prigozhin told Russian new agency RIA, that he wasn’t at all “bothered.”
Mikhail Ivanovich Bystrov
Bystrov’s ran the show at Internet Research Agency before it shut down operations in December 2016. But his work didn’t end with the U.S. elections, apparently. Bystrov’s name appeared again in tax filings for another alleged Russian troll factory: Glavset, which listed the same address —55 Savushkin Street in St. Petersburg — as the defunct Internet Research Agency.
Glavset was cited as an “alleged successor” to the Internet Research Agency in the U.S. Senate’s December report on Russia’s social media meddling entitled Putin’s Asymmetric Assault on Democracy in Russia and Europe: Implications for US National Security. The report also took aim at Facebook and Twitter for their failure to adequately investigate Russian interference:
“[I]n limiting their investigation to just the Internet Research Agency, Facebook missed that it is only one troll farm which ‘‘has existed within a larger disinformation ecosystem in St. Petersburg,’’ including Glavset, an alleged successor of the Internet Research Agency, and the Federal News Agency, a reported propaganda ‘‘media farm,’’ according to Russian investigative journalists.”
Mikhail Leonidovich Burchik
As executive director, Burchik was allegedly second in command at the Internet Research Agency to Bystrov. Joining the operation in the fall of 2013, Burchik played a pivotal role managing the personnel and planning, according to the indictment.
Aleksandra Yuryevna Krylova
Third in command at Prigozhin’s incredibly well-funded troll factory, Krylova traveled to the U.S. in 2014 under false pretenses to collect information for the then budding operation, according to the indictment.
Anna Vladislavovna Bogacheva
Unlike the defendants outlined above, Bogacheva appears to be less of a manager and more of a data geek. She worked on the operations translations and oversaw data analysis, according to the indictment.
Like Krylova, investigators say she traveled to the U.S. under false pretenses on a fact-finding mission.
Sergey Pavlovich Polozov
If this were a James Bond movie, Polozov would probably be the computer wiz. According to the indictment, Polozov worked as the team’s IT expert, getting hold of U.S. servers and equipment designed to disguise their true locations back in Russia.
Maria Anatolyevna Bovda
Maria Boyda lasted a year with the Internet Research Agency, arriving around November 2013 and leaving in October 2014, according to Mueller’s findings. She headed up the “translator project” and held several other positions, according to the indictment. It is not mentioned whether Maria Boyda and Robert Boyda are related.
Robert Sergeyevich Bovda
Robert Sergeyevich Bovda also allegedly worked for the Internet Research Agency for about a year, the exact same dates as Maria Boyda is alleged to have been employed. He worked as the deputy head of the “translator project,” which by July 2016 included more than eighty employees who were monitoring, posting, and updating content for a U.S. audience, according to the indictment.
In 2014, Boyda and several others, including Kyrlova and Bogacheva allegedly attempted to enter the U.S. “for personal reasons,” hoping to hide the fact that they all worked for the Internet Research Agency. While Kyrlova and Bogacheva both managed to squeeze through and tour eight different states (and Mexico), Boyda couldn’t obtain a visa and never entered, according to the indictment.
Dzheykhun Nasimi Ogly Aslanov
At first glance, Dzheykhun Nasimi Ogly Aslanov, allegedly had significant and overarching role as head of the “translator project,” taking on the same position that Maria Boyda had prior.
But Aslanov also had direct financial ties to Prigozhin, according to the indictment. Aslanov was the general director of Azimut LLC, one of the entities allegedly used to transfer money between Concord and the Internet Research Agency. Mueller’s indictment singles out Aslanov along with the IRA and one other defendant, with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud.
The Social Media Operators: Vadim Vladimirovich Podkopaev, Gleb Igorevitch Vasilchenko, Irina Viktorovna Kaverzina, and Vladimir Venko
Little is known about the personal lives of the last four named defendants — Vadim Vladimirovich Podkopaev, Gleb Igorevitch Vasilchenko, Irina Viktorovna Kaverzina and Vladimir Venkov. But professionally, they all held a similar role, central to the Internet Research Agency’s mission — monitoring, updating, and posting on social media, according to the indictment. Podkopaev and Vasilchenko both allegedly joined the Internet Research Agency in 2014 and drafted content for social media platforms. Vasilchenko would also allegedly impersonate Americans or U.S. grassroots organizations.
Kaverzina and Venkov allegedly acted as translators on social media, while simultaneously manning “multiple U.S. personas” online. Kaverzina, for her part, was caught trying to destroy evidence, once writing an email to a family member, which read, “We had a slight crisis here at work: the FBI busted our activity (not a joke.)” In that email she admitted, “I created all these pictures and posts, and the Americans believed that it was written by their people.”
The special counsel’s office additionally charged them and the Internet Research Agency with aggravated identity theft.
While perhaps they’re considered more shadowy figures, social media became the IRA’s most-used weapon to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The organization allegedly had “specialists” who operated on day shifts and night shifts to cover time zone differences. It impersonated social activists and political groups, and spent “thousands” of dollars every month buying up advertisements to promote Internet Research Agency-controlled social media accounts, according to the indictment.
Cover image: Concord Catering General Director Yevgeny Prigozhin seen after the sixth meeting of the High-Level Russian-Turkish Cooperation Council. Mikhail Metzel/TASS (Photo by Mikhail Metzel\TASS via Getty Images)