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Russia Says U.S. 'Fabricating Pretext' To Justify Sanctions

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov (file photo)
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov (file photo)

Russia has accused the United States of "fabricating a pretext" to impose fresh sanctions against Russia after Washington charged a Russian of conspiring to interfere in U.S. elections.

"We understand that Washington is fabricating a pretext in order to impose its notorious sanctions once more against our country," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in a statement quoted by Russian media on October 20.

His comments come a day after U.S. prosecutors charged a Russian woman with conspiring to interfere in U.S. elections, in what appeared to be the first such charges related to next month’s key congressional elections.

The indictment came as U.S. intelligence agencies said in a joint statement that they were concerned about efforts by Russia, China, and Iran to influence U.S. voters and policy.

In a filing in U.S. federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, on October 19, prosecutors accused Elena Khusyaynova of running an operation called Project Lakhta that was funded by a St. Petersburg businessman with close Kremlin ties who was indicted earlier this year.

The project, according to the criminal complaint, intended to wage "information warfare against the United States" and sow distrust in U.S. political candidates and the U.S. political system overall.

The complaint said Khusyaynova had served as chief accountant for Project Lakhta since about April 2014.

The St. Petersburg businessman who allegedly funded the effort was Yevgeny Prigozhin, who was indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller earlier this year on similar charges of trying to interfere with past U.S. elections.

He, two of his companies -- Concord Management and Concord Catering — and 12 other Russians were accused by Mueller of meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential race in an effort aimed at bolstering Donald Trump and denigrating his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

Khusyaynova and Prigozhin are believed to be in Russia and are unlikely to face justice in the United States.

A joint statement released by four intelligence and law enforcement agencies on October 19 said methods of influencing used by China, Iran, and Russia included the use of social media to amplify divisive issues, seeding disinformation about political candidates, and sponsoring content in English-language media.

The statement by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Justice Department, the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security was issued just weeks before the November 6 elections.

That election will, among other things, determine whether the Republicans continue dominating both the House of Representatives and the Senate, or if Democrats will take control.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP