Washington, Oct 20: A Russian woman has been charged by the US government with trying to interfere in the 2018 midterm elections as part of a conspiracy that exploited thousands of social media accounts and emails that claimed to be owned by US residents, officials said.
Forty-four-old Elena Khusyaynova of St. Petersburg is accused of participating in a conspiracy engaged in "information warfare against the US" that aimed "create and amplify divisive social media and political content".
Slammed the move, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said: "Demonstrating hostility to Russia and contempt for the whole world, they will only receive an increasingly tough response."
He said that Washington was "fabricating a pretext for imposing the notorious sanctions once again against our country".
According to a New York Times report on Friday, Khusyaynova bought Internet domain names and Facebook and Instagram ads as well as spent money on building out Twitter accounts and paid to promote divisive posts on social media.
Prosecutors said that Khusyaynova was the chief accountant for a Russian entity dubbed Project Lakhta and managed the group's financing. The group was backed by Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch known as "Putin's chef" who was among 13 Russians indicted in February by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on charges of interfering in the 2016 election.
The conspiracy tried to "inflame passions" on a variety of topics, including immigration, gun control, the Second Amendment, the Confederate flag, race relations, LGBT issues, the Women's March, and the NFL national anthem debate," according to a complaint against her.
"The criminal complaint does not include any allegation that Khusyaynova or the broader conspiracy had any effect on the outcome of an election," the Justice Department said.
It said that it received "exceptional cooperation" in its probe from Facebook, Twitter and other "private sector companies".
Khusyaynova is being prosecuted by the US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Authorities alleged that the proposed operating budget for Project Lakhta totaled more than $35 million between January 2016 and June 2018.
Christopher Wray, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said the charges against Khusyaynova highlighted "threats to our democracy" from online propaganda campaigns.
The complaint was unsealed as intelligence officials warned of ongoing efforts to influence US elections, including from nations such as Russia and Iran.