ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The FBI is investigating how a Russian leader was able to infiltrate a local election and spread propaganda in St. Petersburg.
“The Russian intelligence threat is continuous and unrelenting, but rest assured, the FBI and our law enforcement partners are equally unrelenting,” said David Walker, a special agent in charge of the Tampa FBI field office.
FBI agents spent hours Friday searching the Uhuru House on 18th Ave. in south St. Pete after executing a search warrant. Though the political group located there is not named in the indictment, St. Pete Police told ABC Action News it is tied with a Russian national named Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov.
“We can have relations with whoever we want, whoever we see fit possible to make this evolution possible. We will have a relationship with them,” said Akile Anai, with the Uhuru Movement and African People’s Socialist Party.
The FBI believes that Ionov interfered by controlling the activities of the African People’s Socialist Party in St. Petersburg, along with political groups in Sacramento and Atlanta.
“In 2019, Ionov stepped up his efforts to interfere with St. Petersburg, Florida elections reporting to the FSB that he had been consulting with a candidate every week and that he had personally sent money to the campaign as well as participated in a campaign fundraising event,” said Roger Handberg, U.S. attorney.
“With the whole funding from FSB, it’s not like it’s that person’s views and they had that strong opinion and they want to share their opinion. They’re being funded to find or undermine political life in America,” Anna Lermolaieva, a Ukrainian student at USF.
Lermolaieva said she is used to Russian interference in Ukrainian politics. “Let me tell you, that didn’t do any good to our country. I feel like why Ukraine couldn’t develop as fast as, let’s say, Poland in those 30 years that we were independent is because we had a very strong influence from Russia,” said Lermolaieva.
She said there have been several elections in Ukraine that were infiltrated by Moscow. “So, people would vote for someone they believed in, or someone who has those good ideas, bright ideas and it turns out they were a Russian agent,” said Lermolaieva.