As if tensions with Russia weren’t already high enough, we now have Elena Branson to worry about.
Branson, 61, was charged in a federal complaint Tuesday with working as a spy for Moscow. The dual citizen fled the country after a raid on her $1 million Upper West Side condo in New York City, according to the New York Post.
Prosecutors say she was an unregistered federal agent who pumped Kremlin propaganda into the American body politic — including a disinformation campaign that targeted Hawaii.
(As Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues and tensions ratchet up in Eastern Europe, The Western Journal will stay on top of the latest developments, offering news and analysis from a Christian, conservative viewpoint the mainstream media ignores. You can help us spread the truth by subscribing.)
According to a news release from the Department of Justice, Branson, “beginning in at least 2011, worked on behalf of the Russian government and Russian officials to advance Russian interests in the United States, including by coordinating meetings for Russian officials to lobby U.S. political officials and businesspersons, and by operating organizations in the United States for the purpose of publicly promoting Russian government policies.”
“Branson never notified the Attorney General as she was required to, including by registering under [the Foreign Agents Registration Act],” the DOJ said.
The release said she “incorporated an organization headquartered in Manhattan, New York, named the Russian Center New York (RCNY). She sent correspondence to then-Prime Minister [Vladimir] Putin and met with a high-ranking Russian government minister in connection with the initiation of her activities for the Russian government in the United States.”
Branson “received tens of thousands of dollars in funding from the Russian government” for the effort and “was directed to, among other things, host events designed to consolidate the Russian-speaking youth community in the United States in exchange for funding,” the DOJ said.
This included a propaganda campaign aimed at the state of Hawaii, according to the release.
“As alleged, in or about 2019, Branson coordinated through the RCNY a campaign to lobby Hawaiian officials not to change the name of a fort located on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, which is the last remaining formerly Russian fort in the Hawaiian-islands and is significant to the Russian government,” the statement read.
The name of Russian Fort Elizabeth State Historical Park — which was built in 1817 as the result of an alliance between the Russian-American Company and a local native chief — was what Branson’s reported efforts were centered on, according to The New York Times.
Branson allegedly gave Hawaiian officials messages from Russian politicians and even sent the officials responsible for the name change on a junket to Moscow, where they met with “high-ranking Russian government personnel.”
This apparently came to a close after Branson’s apartment was raided in September 2020. Roughly a month after she was interviewed by FBI agents, she left the country for Moscow, apparently not to return.
Branson was previously married to a prominent academic named William Branson, 23 years older than her. He died of throat cancer in 2006; his daughter told the Post she “assumed she married him for a green card or money rather than spying.”
“She never spent any time with my dad at all. She traveled constantly and blew all his money,” Branson’s daughter said.
Officials said Elena Branson was a key figure in a Russian disinformation campaign.
“As alleged, Branson engaged in a wide-ranging influence and lobbying scheme with funding and direction from the Russian government — all while deliberately leaving the American people in the dark,” said Matthew G. Olsen, an assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice’s National Security Division.
“The department will continue to expose these serious crimes and shine a light on foreign malign influence.”
“The Russian government at its highest levels, up to and including President Vladimir Putin, have made known that aggressive propaganda and recruitment of the Russian diaspora around the world is a Russian priority,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York.
“In connection with this pursuit,” Williams said, “Branson is alleged to have corresponded with Putin himself and met with a high-ranking Russia minister before founding a Russian propaganda center here in New York City, the Russian Center New York. Branson’s promotional outreach, including an ‘I Love Russia’ campaign aimed at American youths, exemplifies her attempts to act at the behest of the Russian government to illegally promote its interests in the United States.
“All the while, Branson knew she was supposed to register as an agent of the Russian government but chose not to do so and, instead, instructed others regarding how to illegally avoid the same.
“Particularly given current global events, the need to detect and hinder attempts at foreign influence is of critical importance, and the Southern District of New York is proud to do its part in the fight against tyranny.”
In a bit of sad irony, Branson was interviewed last year by Russian propaganda mill RT. Her interviewer? Maria Butina, who served an 18-month prison sentence for trying to infiltrate conservative groups such as the National Rifle Association on behalf of Moscow.
In the interview, Branson talked about how she had fled to Moscow to avoid being detained.
“We have your experience, which could be repeated with me,” she told Butina.
According to prosecutors, that’s because Branson repeated the actions that led to Butina’s arrest.
She’s in a lot more trouble, however. If she’s ever tried and convicted of everything she’s charged with, she could be spending up to 35 years in prison.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.