- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 14, 2022

The Justice Department on Thursday charged a Russian lawmaker and two members of his staff with conspiring to use a U.S. citizen as an unregistered Russian agent to influence members of Congress.

Federal prosecutors allege that Aleksander Babakov, deputy chairman of Russia’s State Duma, and two members of his staff orchestrated a covert campaign meant to influence elected U.S. officials “to advance Russia’s malevolent political designs against Ukraine and other countries, including the U.S.”

“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,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams. “Such malign foreign interference will be exposed, and we will pursue justice against its perpetrators.”

Prosecutors say the scheme began in 2012 and lasted through at least 2017. Mr. Babakov, his Chief of Staff Aleksandr Vorobev, and staffer Mikhail Plisyuk allegedly used a Russian non-profit known as the Institute for International Integration Studies as a front in a foreign influence campaign to weaken U.S. partnerships with U.S. allies, undermine sanctions, and promote illicit measures designed to erode Ukraine’s sovereignty.

As part of the campaign, Mr. Babakov used U.S. and European citizens as proxies to cultivate relationships with U.S. and European lawmakers and to obscure their objectives to promote Russian foreign policy positions.

Mr. Babakov allegedly recruited at least one U.S. citizen “with experience relating to international relations and media,” who, on multiple occasions, corresponded with U.S. lawmakers on Mr. Babakov’s behalf.

SEE ALSO: Moscow escalates disinformation campaign in U.S.

In 2012, the U.S. citizen, who remains unnamed in the indictment, attempted to secure a meeting between Mr. Babakov and multiple members of Congress by offering them a trip abroad to meet European politicians and be presented with an award.

The U.S. lawmakers, who also remain unnamed in the indictment, rebuffed the offer, according to the Justice Department.

In 2017, Mr. Babakov sought to arrange a meeting through the same U.S. citizen with a member of Congress to strengthen U.S. and Russian cooperation.

That same year, Mr. Babakov attempted to lure at least one U.S. lawmaker to a conference in Russian-controlled Crimea. The event was organized by Sergey Aksyonov, who is known in Russia as the “prime minister of Crimea” and sanctioned by the U.S. in 2014 for his role in threatening the sovereignty of Ukraine.

That offer was also rebuffed by the U.S. lawmaker, according to the indictment.

The Justice Department also alleges that Mr. Babakov and his staff submitted fraudulent visa applications in 2017 under the pretense that they intended to travel for leisure when they instead intended to conduct meetings with U.S. politicians and advisers.

The three were sanctioned by the U.S. in June of 2017 and their visa applications were denied.

The defendants face one count of conspiring to recruit a U.S. citizen to act as an unregistered foreign agent in the U.S., which carries a sentence of up to five years in prison. They also face one count of conspiring to evade sanctions, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, and one count of conspiring to commit visa fraud, which carries a sentence of up to five years in prison.

The defendants remain in Russia, beyond the reach of U.S. authorities.

“Today’s action demonstrates the FBI’s unwavering commitment to the identification and disruption of Russian government schemes to target the national security and foreign policy of the United States,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Michael J. Driscoll.

• Joseph Clark can be reached at jclark@washingtontimes.com.

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