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Translators, psychologists, and inventors Who are the Russians indicted for interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election?

Meduza
02:17, 19 february 2018

Evgeny Prigozhin, August 9, 2016

PhotoXPress

On February 16, the U.S. Justice Department indicted 13 Russian citizens for interfering in the 2016 presidential election. The most recognizable name on the list of Russians belongs to the catering magnate Evgeny Prigozhin, the general director of the “Internet Research Agency” (better known as “Russia’s troll factory”). The other 12 individuals singled out by the American grand jury are businessmen, translators, analysts, and office managers. They face charges of conspiracy to defraud the U.S., conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and aggravated identity theft. Some of these people have been linked to the “troll factory” in past investigative reports, while there’s almost nothing known about others on the list. Meduza looks at the specific charges against these dozen Russians and what we know about them.

Mikhail Burchik

The charges:

According to the U.S. Justice Department, Burchik started working at the “Internet Research Agency” in 2013, and a year later he was promoted to acting director, becoming the organization’s second-highest official. Burchik allegedly participated directly in planning the agency’s efforts to meddle in U.S. politics, including the 2016 presidential election.

What do we know about him?

Mikhail Burchik was named in an investigative report about Russia’s troll factory by the magazine RBC in March 2017. Reporters found that he owned several companies, including one called the “Commercial News Agency,” which was registered in October 2013 and liquidated in December 2017. RBC was unable to determine what kind of business this company conducted. Another investigate report about Russia’s troll factory published by the website Fontanka identified Burchik as the acting director of the Internet Research Agency. Fontanka based its report on the agency’s internal emails leaked by the hacktivist group “Anonymous International.”

According to the notary service Kartoteka, Mikhail Burchik is an individual entrepreneur born in 1986. He and his companies have won several state procurement contracts. In 2015, for example, he won a contract worth 1.3 million rubles ($23,000) for “producing and distributing the newspaper Municipal District Smolninsky in St. Petersburg.

Alexandra Krylova

The charges:

Krylova was the Internet Research Agency’s director and third-most senior official. She worked for the organization from at least September 2013 until late 2014. She is also accused of visiting the United States on a false pretext to collect intelligence for the agency.

What do we know about her?

From 2014 to 2015, Krylova was the general director of the “Federal News Agency,” which Western and Russian journalists have linked to Evgeny Prigozhin, the “troll factory,” and the “Wagner” private military company. RBC’s investigation points out, for instance, that the Federal News Agency has published several exclusive stories about events in Syria.

In July 2016, staff from the Federal News Agency tried to occupy every seat in the courtroom at a hearing in Prigozhin’s lawsuit against the Internet search engine Yandex, when he tried to exercise his “right to be forgotten” and force Yandex to remove search results that tied him to the troll factory. (The stunt with the seats was an effort to prevent other journalists from finding space to attend the hearing.) RBC says Krylova’s successor, Evgeny Zubarev, was the one who instructed Federal News Agency staff to descend on the courtroom.

RBC’s investigation calls the Federal News Agency the most successful asset in the “media factory” that sprung from the remodeled “troll factory.” The agency comprises at least 16 websites, and thanks to trading links with national outlets these sites are often some of the most cited resources in Russia’s mass media.

Sergey Polozov

The charges:

As the Internet Research Agency’s IT manager, Polozov was directly involved in purchasing U.S. servers, which the organization used to mask its activities in the United States. He worked for the agency from 2014 until 2016.

What do we know about him?

According to the “Spark-Interfax” service (a tool used to search public financial records), there are three men with Polzov’s name living in St. Petersburg. One of them owns several construction companies, another provides cargo transportation services, and a third registered a company in late 2013 called “Carrot: Useful Web Design.” The company’s portfolio says it’s designed a few dozen websites for small companies in St. Petersburg. Carrot’s website hasn’t been updated since 2015, however, and Meduza was unable to reach Polozov at the phone number listed on the site.

Anna Bogacheva

The charges:

While working as a translator for the Internet Research Agency between April and July 2014, Bogacheva visited the United States allegedly to collect intelligence.

What do we know about her?

A native of the Stavropol region, Bogacheva studied at the St. Petersburg State University of Information Technologies, Mechanics and Optics (now known simply as “ITMO University”), where she carried out scientific research on “cloud-computing-based automation of the development of virtual laboratory workshops.”

In 2014, she registered a business in St. Petersburg called “IT Debugger,” which promotes various websites and designs PR campaigns. According to the company’s description on the jobs search engine HeadHunter, IT Debugger “has experience working with complex clients.” Bogacheva’s business partner at the company is Mikhail Potepkin, who once served as a commissar in “Nashi,” a now-defunct pro-Kremlin youth movement

The building in St. Petersburg that has housed the Internet Research Agency since 2017.

Robert Bovda and Maria Bovda (Belyaeva)

The charges:

According to the U.S. Justice Department, Maria Bovda (Belyaeva) worked at the Internet Research Agency from at least November 2013 until October 2014, holding different positions, including head translator.

Robert Bovda worked for the agency during roughly the same time period, reportedly as the organization’s deputy head translator. He’s also suspected of trying to infiltrate the U.S. in order to collect intelligence (he failed in this effort, however, when his visa was rejected).

What do we know about these two?

Robert and Maria Bovda’s names first appeared online in the summer of 2014, when Fontanka published its investigative report on the troll factory, based on accounting documents leaked by the hacktivists at “Anonymous International.” Those financial records indicated that the Internet Research Agency employed about 500 people and operated on a monthly budget of about $1 million per month.

On different blogs and in various forums, the Bovdas have been called “paid commenters.” On social media, people claiming to be the Bovdas’ friends and former teachers have said Robert and Maria were students in the psychology department at St. Petersburg State University. According to the department’s website, someone in 2011 named Robert Sergeevich Bovda defended a thesis titled “The Effects of Social-Support Conditions on Loneliness as Experienced by the Elderly.”

Dzheikhun Aslanov

The charges:

Aslanov has reportedly worked at the Internet Research Agency since 2014, serving as one of the directors of the organization’s translator project. He also allegedly supervised the agency’s effort to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

What do we know about him?

According to the notary service Kartoteka, Dzheikhun Nasimi Ogly Aslanov is the owner and general director of a company called “Azimut,” which the U.S. Justice Department says funnels money from Evgeny Prigozhin’s “Concord” holding company to the Internet Research Agency. Aslanov owns another two companies, as well: the advertising agency “Reputation Management Center” and “Aslan LLC,” which was dissolved in 2016. All three of his businesses were created in St. Petersburg.

Among other things, “Azimut” actually owns hundreds of patents on different inventions. For example, the company has the rights to “a computing aviation complex module” and “a method for destroying small-sized aircraft.” The company “Aslan LLC,” meanwhile, patented a one-temple eyeglasses design and a new way to manufacture men’s underwear.

Vadim Podkopayev

The charges:

At the Internet Research Agency, Podkopayev was allegedly responsible for monitoring the political situation in the U.S. and reviewing content published on social media. The Justice Department says he worked as an analyst in the translator project.

What do we know about him?

Notary registries and open sources have almost no information about anyone named Vadim Podkopayev. The one exception is Vadim Vladimirovich Podkopayev, who’s registered as an independent entrepreneur in the city of Stary Oskol. A 32-year-old native of Ukraine, Podkopayev provides services as an interpreter and translator.

Some of the posts published by Russia’s “troll factory,” according to a demonstration during hearings at the U.S. Congress in November 2017
Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Gleb Vasilchenko

The charges:

Vasilchenko reportedly worked at the Internet Research Agency from August 2014 until September 2016, publishing content on social media from numerous accounts, posing as different American citizens.

What do we know about him?

Nobody with Vasilchenko’s name appears on Russian business registers, but some job search engines contain listings from a nonexistent sole proprietorship called “Gleb Igorevich Vasilchenko,” mostly advertising jobs in social media marketing. Junior SMM editors with at least a year’s experience can earn up to 40,000 rubles ($710) a month, according to Vasilchenko’s listings.

Irina Kaverzina

The charges:

Kaverzina has allegedly worked at the Internet Research Agency since October 2014, serving as a translator and creating fake accounts on social media, posing as different Americans.

What do we know about her?

Messages posted in online forums say a woman named Irina Viktorovna Kaverzina studied at St. Petersburg State University. The indictment against her in the U.S. cites an email she allegedly sent to a “family member” in September 2017, where she wrote: “We had a slight crisis here at work: the FBI busted our activity (not a joke). So, I got preoccupied with covering tracks together with colleagues. [...] I created all these pictures and posts, and the Americans believed that it was written by their people.”

Vladimir Venkov

The charges:

Venkov allegedly worked as a translator at the Internet Research Agency, posting content while posing as different American Internet users.

What do we know about him?

A man named Vladimir Venkov works as a project manager at the company “Ex Libris,” which specializes in monitoring social media for private clients, including businesses like Rostec, Beeline, Kaspersky, and the state corporation Rusnano. According to a Vkontakte account registered to a Vladimir Venkov, he also works at the website D3.ru, which is owned by the British-Virgin-Islands-registered company “Futuware Limited.” The same company also owns the popular websites Leprosorium.com and Dirty.ru.

Albert Martirosyan, Ex Libris’ managing director, told Meduza that the Vladimir Venkov who works at Ex Libris has no connections to the Internet Research Agency and just happens to have the same name as the person mentioned in the indictment.

Story by Konstantin Benyumov, Taisiya Bekbulatova, Ivan Golunov, and Denis Dmitriev, translation by Kevin Rothrock