The Treasury Department issued sanctions on Friday against two Russian intelligence officers for their alleged role in global election influence operations that included recruiting political groups within the U.S. to distribute pro-Moscow propaganda.
“The Kremlin continues to target a key pillar of democracy around the world — free and fair elections,” Brian Nelson, under secretary at the Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence at the Treasury Department, said in a statement. “The United States will not tolerate threats to our democracy, and today’s action builds on the whole of government approach to protect our system of representative government, including our democratic institutions and elections processes.”
Aleksey Borisovich Sukhodolov and Yegor Sergeyevich Popov, both Moscow-based officers of Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB, were directly engaged in a years-long effort to recruit local “co-optees” to influence elections that benefit the Kremlin, the Treasury said. “In support of its influence operations, Russia has recruited and forged ties with people and groups around the world who are positioned to amplify and reinforce Russia’s disinformation efforts to further its goals of destabilizing democratic societies.”
The sanctions announcement Friday follow a criminal indictment against Sukhodolov and Popov that the Department of Justice unsealed in April alleging the two were involved in a years-long campaign to influence elections. The U.S. government has also said the two are suspected of attempting to sway elections in Ukraine, Spain, the United Kingdom and Ireland.
According to the Treasury Department, Popov was the main handler for “co-optees” Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov and Natalya Valeryevna Burlinova who were previously sanctioned by the Treasury Department and have also been indicted for their alleged activities. “From as early as 2015 through at least 2022, Popov worked with Burlinova and oversaw her activities on behalf of the FSB,” Treasury said.
Ionov and Burlinova influenced multiple U.S. individuals and political groups all in an effort to “to create or heighten divisions within the country,” according to a sanctions announcement in July 2022.
While it’s unlikely any of the four Russians sanctioned by the U.S. government and facing charges related to election interference will see the inside of an American court, the actions are part of broader government effort to more aggressively push back against foreign influence on elections, which many experts believe is only expected to increase ahead of the 2024 presidential campaign.
Former Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Chris Krebs said earlier this month to expect a “very, very active threat landscape” concerning election influence and interference.