What is Project Lakhta? Russian accountant charged with targeting 2018

In a federal criminal complaint unsealed
on Friday, a Russian national named Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova was
charged in relation to an online influence campaign that targeted U.S.
elections, including the 2016 presidential election, this year’s
midterms, and even the 2020 vote.

The 44-year-old St. Petersburg resident was allegedly the chief
accountant of the influence operations dubbed “Project Lakhta,”
preparing multimillion-dollar budgets for operations funded by the
Russian oligarch and Putin ally Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin. The
operating budget for the first half of 2018 alone was $10 million,
according to a U.S. Justice Department statement.

The operation allegedly generated divisive social media posts, targeting
audiences on both sides of issues like immigration, LGBT rights, gun
control, and the Confederate flag.

[Image: courtesy of U.S. Department of Justice]

“Posting can be problematic due to time difference, but if you make your
reposts in the morning St. Petersburg time, it works well with
liberals–LGBT groups are often active at night,” read one document
translated in the complaint. “Also, the conservative can view your
repost when they wake up in the morning if you post it before you leave
in the evening St. Petersburg time.”

The group allegedly created bogus Facebook personas, Facebook pages, and
Twitter accounts to promote partisan viewpoints and even advertise
real-world protests. Investigators received “exceptional cooperation
from private sector companies, such as Facebook and Twitter,” according
to the Justice Department.

Although the complaint mentions that U.S. people communicated with the
fake accounts, there’s no allegation that any Americans knowingly
participated in the influence operation, according to a Justice
Department statement.

“We didn’t vote for Trump because of a couple of hashtags shilled by the
Russians,” said one tweet allegedly posted by the Russian group. “We
voted for Trump because he convinced us to vote for Trump. And we are
ready to vote for Trump again in 2020!”


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