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US says three Russians offered congressman a free trip as part of a propaganda and disinformation campaign

Aleksandr Babakov, deputy chairman of the Russian State Duma, and his staffers Aleksandr Vorobev and Mikhail Plisyuk, were charged with conspiring to act in the US as an unregistered foreign agent, conspiring to violate US sanctions and conspiring to commit visa fraud.

As part of the alleged scheme, in 2017, prosecutors said the men allegedly violated US sanctions laws by seeking to recruit at least one US businessman and at least one congressman with an all-expenses paid trip to attend a conference in Yalta, an area in Russian-controlled Crimea, for the benefit of Sergey Aksyonov, a Russian placed on the US sanctions list following Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

The congressman, who was not identified, did not accept the invitation, the indictment said.

Prosecutors allege the men schemed to affect US policy toward Russia from 2012 to 2017 “through staged events, paid propaganda, and the recruitment of at least one American citizen to do their bidding in unofficial capacities,” according to the indictment.

Also in 2017, prosecutors say that Babakov requested a meeting with a congressman in Washington through the American citizen and Babakov and his staffers falsified their Visa applications by saying they were traveling separately and on vacation. The US placed the three men on the US sanctions list in 2017 so their visas were denied, and no meetings took place, prosecutors said. Babakov, a pro-Vladimir Putin lawmaker, was also sanctioned by the European Union for voting in favor of a Russian bill annexing Crimea in 2014.

The three men are based in Russia and remain at large, prosecutors said. The US Justice Department is seeking forfeiture of any property, vessels, aircraft used or traced to the proceeds obtained through the alleged crimes.

The Russians, the indictment alleges, used a nonprofit organization based in Russia, the Institute for International Integration Studies, as a front for their activities.

“Russian legislator Aleksandr Babakov and two of his staffers allegedly orchestrated a covert Russian propaganda campaign in the U.S. in order to advance Russia’s malevolent political designs against Ukraine and other countries, including the U.S.,” Damian Williams, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement.

“Today’s indictment demonstrates that Russia’s illegitimate actions against Ukraine extend beyond the battlefield, as political influencers under Russia’s control allegedly plotted to steer geopolitical change in Russia’s favor through surreptitious and illegal means in the U.S. and elsewhere in the West,” Williams added.

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