On Friday afternoon, a Russian national was indicted for interference in the 2016 election and for plans to interfere in the 2018 midterms. Named in the indictment is Elena Khusyaynova. She is charged with creating thousands of false identities on social media, all of them appearing to come from U.S. citizens, which were used to “create and amplify divisive social media and political content.”
The indictment reveals not just the actions of Khusyaynova, but a massive social media effort by Russia to inflame tensions in the United States, spread divisiveness, and create hatred that interferes with the political process. In some cases, the Russian operatives behind a sea of false fronts even argued for and against the same issue in the most extreme terms—they trolled issues from multiple positions, with no intent except to increase hatred and rip apart American society.
Court documents name Khusyaynova as “chief accountant” for an extensive Russian propaganda campaign called Project Lakhta. This project, funded through one of the three Russian companies indicted by Robert Mueller in July, appears to be a massive effort to spread false stories designed to inflame racial tensions, create divisiveness, and disrupt conversations.
“The strategic goal of this alleged conspiracy, which continues to this day, is to sow discord in the U.S. political system and to undermine faith in our democratic institutions,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
The EDVA office places the operation budget of Project Lakhta at more than $35 million between 2016 and 2018, though not all those funds were spent in the United States. In the first half of 2018 along, Project Lakhta spent $10 million to create discord in US political discussions.
As in previous instances involving Russian hackers, the false identities created by Khusyaynova spread on issues of race, sexual orientation, immigration, and regulation of guns. After the 2016 election, Project Lakhta also focused on Donald Trump’s attack on black athletes in the NFL, the women’s march, shooting incidents such as the massacre in Las Vegas, and rallies by white supremacists. In several instances, Project Lakhta appears to have argued both sides of the same issue, taking extreme positions designed to inflame attitudes and cause discord. The project also attacked specific politicians, including John McCain and Barack Obama.