Putin ‘couldn’t care less’ about possible Russian meddling

1. Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin, 56, – The boss, also known as ‘Putin’s Chef’  

According to the indictment released on Friday by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s office, Prigozhin led the effort.

The 56-year-old is said to have used his businesses, Concord Catering and Concord Management and Consulting, to fund the Internet Research Agency, known as the ‘Kremlin Troll factory’ which was the vehicle for the alleged interference.

Prigozhin paid the salaries of the other 12 defendants who worked for the research company, it is alleged, through this financial backing which prosecutors started in 2014.

The businessman is given the nickname ‘Putin’s Chef’ because he owns restaurants favored by Putin as the venues for state dinners.

A 2016 profile of him by the Russian newsite Meduza described him as an ex-con who graduated from a boarding school only to join a gang and become convicted of attempted robbery and prostitution. He spent nine years in jail.

He gained access to St. Petersburg’s elite in 1996 when he and a friend opened Staraya Tamozhnya, one of the city’s finest restaurants. Until then, he had worked with his father more modesty in grocery stores and selling hot dogs.

He opened his New Island, his second restaurant, in 1997. Putin was first drawn to it in 2001 when he took the then French president Jacques Chirac there for a meal and Prigozhin served them.

He continued to cater to Putin’s staff at the restaurant over the years and grew closer to them. Soon, he became the go-to caterer for official state events in Moscow. 

In 2010, he launched what was billed as a good-cause initiative to feed hungry schoolchildren in St Petersburg. 

Putin attended the launch of food factory to celebrate it and the initiative was funded generously by state-owned bank Vnesheconombank. 

A year into the project, parents became angry when they realized the food being produced was full of additives.

He then started feeding other school children in Moscow with more success, having obtained private contracts from the city’s mayor. 

Prigozhin won similarly lucrative contracts with the military. 

In 2012, he signed a $1.2billion contract which had him provide 90 percent of the meals the Russian army’s soldiers consumed. The system of outsourcing the military’s meals ended in 2013.

It gave him his biggest paycheck and associates said at the time he was known to pay for private jets with cash.  

Throughout, Prigozhin was a dedicated patriot and was proud of his association to Putin’s government. 

This lucrative relationship with the state carried on until 2013 when the laws changed and outside caterers were no longer brought in to provide the military with meals. 

By then, Prigozhin had earned more than $1billion from the state through the deal. 

The ‘troll factory’ (Internet Research Agency) was founded that same year. Though Mikhail Bystrov was named as its owner and CEO, Russian journalists learned of Prigozhin’s connection to it early on.

What specifically prompted him to do it or if anyone put him up to it remains unclear. 

In its genesis, the factory’s employees had one job – to post complimentary post on social media about Putin and the government and besmirch the names of their opponents. 

When Prigozhin’s association to the Internet Research Agency was revealed, he faced increased scrutiny from critics.

An article in 2015 highlighted how the factory worked and the conflict Prigozhin’s relationship to Putin posed. 

With the bad press about him growing, Prigozhin attempted in 2016 to have himself ‘erased’ from the internet. It coincided with the introduction of a new bill which gave an individual the right to be forgotten. 

The law was pushed by Putin and states that websites must delete content such as news stories about an individual if it breaks the law, is false or is ‘obsolete’.  

To date, Prigozhin has filed 15 lawsuits against the Russian search engine Yandex which is uncensored.  

2. Mikhail Bystrov, retired police colonel and the CEO frontman for the ‘troll factory’   

Bystrov was listed as the CEO of Internet Research Agency and his name has been linked to other companies which have been tied to the election interference.

Little is known of him other than that was an employee of the state who was born in 1958. 

He, unlike Prigozhin, has not been pictured publicly with Putin and has kept himself out of the spotlight. 

According to Mueller’s investigation, he joined IRC in 2014 as its highest ranking employee.  

‘Bystrov was the general director. He subsequently served as the head of various other entities used by the organization to mask its activities, for example, Glavset LLC, where he was listed as that entity’s general director,’ it reads. 

3. Mikhail Leonidovich Burchik, aka Mikhail Abramov, the second in command 

Burchik was Bystrov’s right-hand man at the organization, according to Mueller’s complaint.

He used the name Mikhail Abramov too and was instrumental in orchestrating Project Lakhta, the generously funded  project which officials say was the start of the interference.

At conception, it had a budget of the equivalent of $1.25million. Lakhta involved both US and Russian-targeted interference, it claimed. 

He was in charge of meetings, structure and personnel, according to Mueller’s indictment, had one-on-ones with Prigozhin. 

4. Sergey Pavlovich Polozov, IT whiz who used US servers to hide ‘troll factory’s’ real location in Russia

Polozov was in charge of the IT department and his biggest responsibility was hiding the location of the Internet Research’s Agency HQ, now known to be 55 Savushkina Street in the Olgina neighborhood of St Petersburg.

Prosecutors allege that the posts its employees wrote were designed to look like they had been written by Americans who favored Trump. 

This was possible, Mueller says, through the ‘procurement of US servers’ which at first glance made them look like they came from America if they were ever probed.  

Mueller’s indictment alleges: ‘Polozov served as the manager of the IT department and oversaw the procurement of US servers and other company infrastructure that masked the organization’s Russian location when conducting operations within the United States. 

‘To hide their Russian identities, [they], particular Polozov, purchased space on computer servers located inside the US in order to set up virtual private networks (VPNs). They connected from Russia to the US-based infrastructure by way of these VPNs and conducted activity in the US, including accessing online social media accounts, opening new accounts, and communicating with real US persons – while masking the Russian origin and control of the activity,’ it reads.

5. Aleksandra Yurevna Krylova, female spy who ‘came to US in 2013 to gather information and report it back’

Mueller’s complaint gives little detail of the background lives of the lesser known employees and there is scarce information about them available. 

It is suggested though that Krylova, one of four women named, was the company’s spy. 

‘In 2014, Krylova traveled to the United States under false pretenses for the purpose of collecting intelligence to inform the organization’s operations,’ the indictment reads.

6. Anna Vladislavovna Bogacheva, data analyst for alleged US interference dubbed ‘the translator project’

Bogacheva was tied to what the employees referred to as ‘the translator project’. It was part of the larger Project Lakhta but focused only on US audiences, it is claimed.

She too is alleged to have traveled to the US under false pretenses to gather information. 

Bogacheva only worked for the company for three months between April and July 2015 but she is listed as one of the defendants.  

7. Maria Anatolyevna Bovda, project manager 

Bovda is described in the indictment as the ‘head’ of the translator project, the designated branch of the wider pro-Putin effort which focused on US audiences. 

She worked there between November 2013 and October 2014, according to the complaint. 

8. Robert Sergeyevish Bovda, second in charge of project 

It is not clear from the indictment whether he and Maria Bovda are related, but he acted beneath her as the second in charge of the ‘translator’ project and worked at the company over the same dates. 

He too is accused of trying to enter the US under false pretenses to collect information but he did not obtain a visa and could not make the trip. 

9. Dzheykhun Nasimi Ogly, took over before the election 

Ogly, who also used the names Jayhoon Aslanov and Ajay Aslanov took over when Maria Bovda left the project in late 2014 and he was at its helm during the election, it is claimed.

He was also listed as a director for another company which has been tied to interference and is owned by Prigozhin. 

10. Vadim Vladimirovich Podkopaev, data analyst 

Podkopaev joined in June 2014 and drafted social media content to be blasted by the ‘trolls’. 

He also worked as a data analyst, targeting US audiences, according to the complaint. 

11. Gleb Igorevich Vasilchenko, pre-election ‘troll’

Vasilchenko is accused of posting under numerous social media accounts which the factory operated from 2014 until September 2016, two months before the election. 

He went on to work for ‘sub groups’ which were also owned by Prigozhin and which also worked to interfere with the election, it is claimed. 

As per the complaint, he ‘was responsible for posting, monitoring and updating the social media content of many organization-controlled accounts while posing as US persons or US grassroots organizations.

12. Irina Viktorovna Kaverzina, ‘posed as multiple US voters online’

The fourth woman charged, she is alleged to have used multiple social media accounts to pose as an American and make influential posts about politics and Donald Trump. 

She joined in October 2014. 

When US officials launched their investigation in 2017, Kaverzine allegedly let slip to a family member that they had been ‘busted’ and told how she had to spend time ‘covering her tracks’.  

‘We had a slight crisis here at work: the FBI busted our activity (not a joke). So I got preoccupied with covering tracks together with colleagues. I created all these pictures and posts and the Americans believed it was written by their people,’ she wrote.  

13. Vladimir Venkov,  pre-election troll 

Venkov, one of three designated trolls, allegedly shared the responsibilities of Kaverzina and Vasilchenko to post content online while posing as an American.  

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk