Elena Branson aka Elena Chernykh allegedly came to the U.S. to market an “I Love Russia” campaign aimed at American youth. She fled after she was charged for being a Russian agent, according to the Department of Justice.
Branson, 61, a dual Russian-U.S. citizen, allegedly “corresponded with Putin himself” and was involved “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.”
She’s facing six criminal counts for crimes such as visa fraud, making false statements to the FBI, and evading her legal responsibility to register with the U.S. government as a foreign agent, according to the Daily Beast. This is also known as “espionage-lite.”
Before fleeing from the U.S. about a year and a half ago, for nearly a decade she worked as an adviser to Manhattan Venture Partners, a merchant-banking technology firm, and before that as a financial strategist at Beryl Consulting Group while also founding and running Russian Center New York.
According to the Russian Center New York’s website, the mission is “to celebrate and share Russian cultural heritage for the enrichment of our community, improve relations between the American and the Russian people, protect the rights of Russian Americans and encourage their participation in public and cultural affairs of the U.S.”
Branson received thousands of dollars from the Russian government to run the organization, which opened in 2012.
Manhattan prosecutors are accusing Branson’s Russia Center New York of being nothing more than a “Russian propaganda center.”
“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,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in the Justice Department press release.
”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.”
Branson also worked as the chair of the Russian Community Council of the USA (also known in Russian as the Coordinating Council of Russian Compatriots of the U.S., or by its acronym, KSORS).
KSORS was being investigated by the FBI in June 2021. By November 2021 the organization shuttered, blaming the investigation for the closure.
In September 2020, Branson’s home was raided by the FBI. Her computers, phones, and documents were confiscated.
“The agents asked me to go out and searched the apartment for several hours. They didn't tell me what they were looking for,” Branson told Russia Today at the time, according to RadioFreeEurope.
The Daily Beast reports that after Branson fled to Russia, she gave an interview to state-controlled news where she claimed she left the U.S. for fear of being detained or arrested.