Who is Elena Branson? US-Russian citizen accused of being a SPY for Russia
On Tuesday, March 8, federal prosecutors accused a US-Russian citizen of illegally working as a Russian government agent in the United States
On Tuesday, March 8, federal prosecutors accused a dual (US-Russian) citizen of illegally working as a Russian government agent in the United States. Elena Branson, also known as Elena Chernykh, acted as an unlawful Russian agent to spread Russia’s interests, including through lobbying of U.S. Government officials in favor of Russian policy positions, according to a criminal complaint unsealed in a federal court in New York. According to the complaint, "throughout, Branson has received funding and direction from the Russian Government, including from the Russian Embassy in the United States, and received tasking from high-level Russian Government officials and Russian Government-run organizations."
Branson is accused of personally communicating with then-Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, from whom she requested administrative support so she could hold events in the consulate in New York and the embassy in Washington, D.C., according to the document. It claims that one of the ways she sought to promote Russian interests was by organizing a campaign in April 2016 to invite presidential candidate Donald Trump or one of his adult children to attend the annual ‘Russia Forum New York’.
The lawsuit stated, however, that 'there is no indication that the now-former President or his children attended the referenced meeting.' Branson, 61, is also accused of attempting to persuade Trump to attend the 2016 World Chess Championship, which was hosted at the South Street Seaport in New York. On November 10, 2016, she allegedly contacted a Trump advisor, requesting that Trump, who was then the president-elect, attend the event. According to the court brief, the FBI publicly published images from the event to establish that Dmitry Peskov, Putin's press secretary, was present. However, there is no evidence that Trump was present.
According to the court petition, Branson, who was born in the Soviet Union before moving to the United States in 1991, became a US citizen in 1999. She allegedly informed a high-ranking member of a Moscow-based think tank that her center's goals were to fight against anti-Russian sentiment in the United States. She founded the Russian Center in New York with the support of the Russian government. She was involved in several efforts to connect with New York state senators and New York City authorities, and was previously accused of lobbying with several Hawaiian officials. According to the FBI's court filing, she communicated with Russian government officials on several occasions, including diplomats in the United States.
According to the Department of Justice website, the FBI interrogated Branson and searched her home in September 2020, discovering 34 electronic items, including 11 smartphones. Branson went to Moscow a month later, according to prosecutors, and has not returned to the United States since. Prosecutors also said that in October, Branson appeared on Russian television for an interview with Maria Butina, who was found guilty in 2018 of working as an unregistered agent of a foreign government in a case investigated by then-special counsel Robert Mueller.
According to the court document, Branson informed Butina that she fled the United States following the FBI interview because she believed the probability was very high that she would be arrested if she stayed. Butina attempted to ingratiate herself with the National Rifle Association, according to court records, and she also participated in outreach to the Trump campaign. She was deported after serving her prison sentence and was elected to the Russian legislature last year, according to The New York Times.