Russian journalists say a former ‘troll factory’ manager is now living happily outside Seattle
Agata Burdonova's Vkontakte account
Two sources have confirmed to the independent TV station Dozhd that a former “troll factory” manager is now living happily in a suburb outside Seattle, Washington. Agata Burdonova refused to discuss her move to the United States and denied any ties to St. Petersburg’s infamous Internet Research Agency, but Dozhd says she used to serve as the duty manager for the organization’s foreign department. In addition to the television network’s unnamed sources, Burdonova herself has shared circumstantial evidence that also connects her to the agency. Meduza examines how a former troll manager may have ended up resettling in America’s Pacific Northwest.
Burdonova and the Internet Research Agency
According to Dozhd, Burdonova and a man named Maxim Elfimov served as assistants to Katarina Aistova, who was once the head of the troll factory’s “media and forums” department. Like Burdonova, Elfimov told Dozhd that he never worked at the Internet Research Agency. Aistova refused to speak to Dozhd, but she granted an interview to The New York Times' Adrian Chen almost three years ago, telling him that she worked for the agency for a month and a half as a translator. Chen's article would become the first in-depth English-language report on Russia’s troll factory (though Russian journalists started covering the story almost two years earlier).
Four days before she flew to the United States, Burdonova shared a photograph on Vkontakte showing her embracing Aistova at a going-away party. Adrian Chen confirms that the woman in the photo is the same troll factory employee he spoke to in 2015.
How did she get to the U.S.?
Burdonova didn’t fly to Seattle alone. She came with her husband, a software engineer named Dmitry Fedorov. Four months before arriving in Washington state, the happy couple were married in St. Petersburg on August 8, 2017 — less than two months after Fedorov wrote on Vkontakte that he’d received an “offer of employment with Facebook.”
On LinkedIn, however, Fedorov identifies himself as a software engineer at the international game developer Wargamming.net. His profile doesn't say anything about working at Facebook. The couple reportedly lives in Bellevue, Washington, which is roughly eight miles from the city of Redmond, where Wargaming Seattle is based. Facebook's Seattle office, meanwhile, is just a mile farther away from Bellevue. Facebook did not respond to Meduza’s email about whether it employs a software engineer named Dmitry Fedorov in Seattle.
Burdonova seems to be enjoying her life in the United States. A day after arriving in Bellevue, she shared a photograph from her apartment window, writing “#ExtendedStayAmerica.” In late October, before even leaving for the U.S., she created a page on Facebook to write in English about “inspiration,” literature, and the winter holidays. On YouTube, Burdonova recently shared a video showing that she had completed an application for an American Social Security Card. On the form, she apparently entered the wrong year, writing “January 3, 2017.” After Dozhd reported her relocation to Washington, Burdonova deleted her YouTube account.
Why isn’t she in handcuffs?
On February 16, Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election indicted 13 Russian citizens and three Russian organizations on Friday with conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and aggravated identity theft. Neither Burdonova, Maxim Elfimov, nor Katarina Aistova were named in these charges.
But Burdonova does have an indirect connection to one of the individuals indicted earlier this month: her supposed boss, Katarina Aistova, allegedly worked under Dzheikhun Aslanov, the head of the Internet Research Agency’s international department. He's reportedly worked at the agency since 2014, serving as one of the directors of the organization’s translator project. Aslanov also allegedly supervised the agency’s effort to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
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.
The actions described in the indictment range from elaborate financial transactions and online subterfuge to “troll factory” employees paying an American to stand outside the White House in 2016 with a birthday sign for Evgeny Prigozhin, the alleged owner of Russia’s “Internet Research Agency.”
You can read the full 37-page indictment at the Justice Department’s website. According to the charges, the defendants conspired since 2014 to violate American laws banning foreigners from spending money to influence U.S. elections.
Responding to the indictments, Prigozhin told the news agency RIA Novosti that he's not upset: “The Americans are very impressionable people — they see what they want to see. I have great respect for them. I'm not at all upset that I've been named on this list. If they want to see a devil, then let them.”
On February 21, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told journalists that he thinks it's dangerous for any Russian citizens named in the Mueller counsel's indictment to travel abroad.