Home News Russian spy indicted for running ‘Russian propaganda center’ in New York City

Russian spy indicted for running ‘Russian propaganda center’ in New York City

Alleged Russian spy Elena Branson. Image credit: Russia Center via Facebook.

John Annese

New York Daily News

A woman with dual U.S. and Russian citizenship who ran an “I Love Russia” influence campaign is charged with illegally acting as a foreign agent, founding a “Russian propaganda center” in Manhattan after corresponding with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

Elena Branson, 61, who was born in the Soviet Union, came to the United States in 1991 and worked on behalf of the Russian government since at least 2011, never registering under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, prosecutors charged.

She’s believed to have fled to Moscow in October 2020 after her then-boyfriend wired $197,000 to two of her Russian bank accounts, prosecutors said.

“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,” Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney Damian 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.”

Branson founded the Russian Center New York in Manhattan in 2012, which hosted an annual forum funded in part by Russia.

She used the organization “to spread Russian influence in the United States and promote Russian interests, including through the lobbying of U.S. Government officials in favor of Russian policy positions,” according to a federal criminal complaint.

She even tried to invite then-presidential candidate Donald Trump or his children to the center’s April 2016 forum, though there’s no indication any of them attended, according to a federal complaint.

The center coordinated an “I Love Russia” youth campaign in the U.S. aimed at promoting Russian history and culture, prosecutors said. She also ran a campaign in 2019 lobbying Hawaiian officials to maintain the name of Russian Fort Elizabeth on Kauai, the last remaining former Russian fort in the Hawaiian islands.

Branson also took part in a scheme to get fraudulent visas for Russian officials and their associates, prosecutors charged.

Last October, Branson said in an interview with convicted Russian agent Maria Butina on Russian state TV that she fled the U.S. because she expected to be arrested.

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