Who is Elena Branson? All about the US-Russian citizen accused of being a spy

Elena Branson (Image via Russian Center New York)
Elena Branson (Image via Russian Center New York)

Charges have been pressed against Elena Branson, 61, a dual Russian-American citizen, for illegally acting as a Russian government spy while conducting business in the United States for nearly a decade.

Branson was also charged with "willfully failing to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, conspiring to commit visa fraud, and making false statements to the FBI," on Tuesday.


All about Elena Branson and the charges pressed against her

Branson, also known as Elena Chernykh, was born in the then-Soviet Union in 1961. However, she emigrated to the US in 1991, according to the complaint. She obtained the United States citizenship in 1999.

Prosecutors noted in a statement:

"[ The Russian Center New York, an organization run by Branson, received] tens of thousands of dollars in funding from the Russian government and have taken direct orders from Russian officials concerning events and public messaging."

Branson was also appointed the chairperson of the Russian Community Council of the United States, previously known as the Coordinating Council of Russian Compatriots. Following an FBI investigation, the group stopped operating in 2021.

Damian Williams, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, alleged that Elena Branson had corresponded with Vladimir Putin and met with a high-ranking Russian minister before establishing the "propaganda center (Russian Center New York)." Williams noted in a statement:

"Branson's promotional outreach, including an 'I Love Russia' campaign aimed at American youths, exemplifies her attempts to act at the behest of the Russian government to illegally promote its interests in the United States."

Prosecutors stated that Branson has been working for the Russian government to advance Russian interests in the US, since 2011, at least. Additionally, they also expressed that she has allegedly operated organizations to promote the Russian government's policies.

According to the complaint that was filed against Elena Branson, she coordinated meetings between Russian and US political officials or businessmen.

In April 2016, Branon reportedly sent a Russian minister a draft letter to the then-Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, inviting him to the Russia Forum in New York for a meeting. There was no indication that the now-former president attended the meeting.

In a September 2020 interview with the FBI, Branson falsely claimed that she had never been asked by Russian officials to coordinate any meetings with US business leaders or politicians. She reportedly fled to Moscow about a month after the FBI searched her organization's offices in 2020.

The Independent reported that 34 electronic devices, including 11 mobile phones, were seized from Branson and the Russian Center New York office in Manhattan. Branson remains at large.

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Edited by Abu Amjad Khan
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