A Russian woman is accused of acting as an illegal Russian agent in New York to "shape US policy in favor of Russian objectives."

On Tuesday, Elena Branson, 61, is accused of acting and conspiring to act in the United States illegally as an agent of the Russian government, willfully failing to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (“FARA”), as well as conspiring to commit visa fraud and making false statements to the FB

On Tuesday, Branson who is a dual Russian and U.S. citizen was charged with conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the Attorney General, acting as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the Attorney General, conspiring to evade FARA registration, willfully failing to register under FARA, conspiring to commit visa fraud and making false statements to the FBI.

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“Elena Branson actively subverted foreign agent registration laws in the United States in order to promote Russian policies and ideology. The Russian government at its highest levels, up to and including President Vladimir Putin, have made known that aggressive propaganda and recruitment of the Russian diaspora around the world is a Russian priority," U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said.

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As alleged, beginning in at least 2011, Branson worked on behalf of the Russian government and Russian officials to advance Russian interests in the United States, including by coordinating meetings for Russian officials to lobby U.S. political officials and businesspersons, and by operating organizations in the United States for the purpose of publicly promoting Russian government policies, and she never notified the Attorney General as she was required to, including by registering under FARA.

Among other things, in or about 2012, after receiving approval from the highest levels of the Russian government, Branson incorporated an organization headquartered in Manhattan, New York, named the Russian Center New York (“RCNY”), officials say.

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"In connection with this pursuit, Branson is alleged to have corresponded with Putin himself and met with a high-ranking Russia minister before founding a Russian propaganda center in New York City, the Russian Center New York. Branson’s promotional outreach, including an ‘I Love Russia’ campaign aimed at American youths, exemplifies her attempts to act at the behest of the Russian government to illegally promote its interests in the United States. All the while, Branson knew she was supposed to register as an agent of the Russian government but chose not to do so and, instead, instructed others regarding how to illegally avoid the same," U.S. Attorney Damian Williams adds.

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According to the allegations contained in the Complaint filed in Manhattan federal court

  • She received tens of thousands of dollars in funding from the Russian government for the RCNY and used the RCNY to host events and engage in public messaging at the direction of the Russian government and Russian officials.
  • For example, Branson and the RCNY hosted an annual youth forum, funded in part by an entity controlled by the Government of Moscow. Throughout her work as a Russian agent in the United States, Branson received funding and direction from the Russian government, including from the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., and received tasking from high-level Russian government officials and Russian government-run organizations.
  • At the same time, however, Branson actively sought to hide that the Russian government was providing her with tasking and funding her activity and she instructed her co-conspirators to do the same. She also cautioned others against using language in describing their activities that would draw attention to FARA registration obligations for herself and the organizations.
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“As alleged, Branson worked as an illegal agent of the Russian government," FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Michael J. Driscoll said. "At the direction of the Russian government, she led a years long campaign to identify the next generation of American leaders, cultivate information channels, and shape US policy in favor of Russian objectives. This case highlights the breadth of Russia's relentless intelligence and malign influence activities targeting the United States.

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