Dual US-Russian citizen charged as ‘foreign agent’
The US Justice Department has charged a dual US-Russian national on allegations she worked as a “foreign agent” for Moscow, claiming the accused helped to network state-side meetings for senior officials and advanced Russia’s “interests” within the United States.
The DOJ unsealed a criminal complaint against 61-year-old Elena Branson on Tuesday, slapping her with six counts linked to acting as a “foreign agent” and failing to report that fact to authorities.
Branson “worked on behalf of the Russian government and Russian officials,” including by coordinating lobbying meetings and operating organizations in the US “for the purpose of publicly promoting Russian government policies,” the complaint said.
Among a long list of alleged transgressions stretching back to 2011, the DOJ said Branson hosted “events designed to consolidate the Russian-speaking youth community in the United States in exchange for funding,” as well as helping to organize an “‘I Love Russia’ campaign” focused on promoting Russian history and culture to young Americans.
Though neither act by itself would constitute a crime, Washington says Branson failed to notify the US attorney general about her status as a “foreign agent” under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and now faces up to 35 years behind bars if hit with the maximum sentencing guidelines for each of the six counts.
Though the DOJ claims Branson’s crimes go back more than a decade ago, it is unclear why it unveiled the indictment when it did, as even the department noted that “Branson left the United States for Russia in 2020 and remains at large.”
Moscow hit back with a response later on Tuesday, with Russia’s US Embassy saying it would consider Branson’s prosecution a “hostile action” by the American government, while arguing that it had criminalized US-based Russians for attempting to keep a “relationship with their Motherland” or “take an active part in preserving its own cultural and linguistic heritage.”
The embassy denounced Washington’s charges as “outrageous and absolutely unfounded,” and went on to say they were part of a “large-scale anti-Russian campaign that resembles a ‘witch hunt’ in the worst traditions of McCarthyism.”
The DOJ’s newly released complaint comes as the United States and a long list of allies impose a raft of harsh sanctions on Russia over its assault on Ukraine late last month, deeming the attack an act of aggression against a sovereign nation. Moscow, however, says the military operation was launched to defend breakaway regions under siege by the Ukrainian government since 2014, and to “demilitarize” and “denazify” the country.