The founder of a Russian propaganda center in New York — who helped push an “I Love Russia” campaign — was hit with federal charges Tuesday that she acted as an illegal agent of the Kremlin.
Alleged spy Elena Branson launched the Russia Center New York in Manhattan in 2012, after receiving the authorization from the highest levels of the Russian government, Manhattan prosecutors charged.
They alleged that she even corresponded with Russian President Vladimir Putin himself as part of the effort.
The center served as a Kremlin propaganda machine aimed at spreading its influence in the US, prosecutors said.
Branson’s work with the center, which was financed in part by the Russian government, included hosting an annual “youth forum,” which was “designed to consolidate the Russian-speaking youth community in the United States,” prosecutors allege.
Branson, 61, a dual resident of Russia and the US, also served as the chairperson of the Russian Community Council of the USA, an organization that targeted kids in the US and sought to promote Russian history and culture.
The council coordinated an “I Love Russia” campaign in the US among other activities, according to prosecutors.
In 2019, Branson also coordinated a campaign to lobby Hawaiian officials against changing the name of a fort on the island of Kauai, according to the complaint against her. The fort was the last surviving formerly Russian outpost in Hawaii and was significant to the Russian government, prosecutors charge.
Branson, who flew to Russia in 2020 and remains at large, was charged with six counts, including failure to register as a foreign government agent.
Damian Williams, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York said in statement he was proud his office charged Branson.
“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,” Williams said.
“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,” he added.