Following Mueller Indictments Targeting Russians, Moscow Maintains Denial
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And now a view from Moscow, where NPR's Lucian Kim is based.
Lucian, thanks so much for joining us once again.
LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Pleasure to be here.
MARTIN: First of all, is there any reaction in Moscow - any official reaction? And is there any word on the street yet?
KIM: Well, Michel, the main news in Russia today is that Russia's hockey team beat the U.S. at the Olympics 4-0. And I think for ordinary Russians, this is really just a blip because there are so many accusations coming out of the U.S. these days.
As for an official reaction, well, the Kremlin's line has always been there has been no state-ordered hacking, it has nothing to do with this Internet Research Agency which is supposedly behind it and that this is all part of an anti-Russian campaign in the U.S. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov today repeated that line. He was in Germany, and he said there's no proof for it. It's just chatter, in his words.
MARTIN: Well, let's talk a little bit about the indictment, which focused on 13 Russian nationals, as we said. You know, who are they? What do we know about them?
KIM: Well, the main person in the indictment - his name is Yevgeny Prigozhin. In fact, he's already been put on a sanctions list by the U.S. He's a St. Petersburg businessman, and (laughter) actually, he's known as Putin's cook because of his catering business. But he's really quite shadowy. And what we do know about him is thanks to the reporting of Russian journalists and anti-corruption activists. He is believed to be behind this Internet Research Agency - that organization which conducted social media campaigns in the U.S. from Russia.
The other people on the list look like they are associates of Prigozhin linked to that Internet Research Agency. These are analysts, managers, translators - basically, people executing his orders.
MARTIN: Well - and you already mentioned one of these entities. There are three Russian entities also indicted. You just mentioned one of them earlier - the Internet Research Agency. What is that?
KIM: Right. All three companies are owned by Prigozhin. And this Internet Research Agency - well (laughter), it's actually frequently called the troll factory.
Again, for people watching this case, it's not actually that new. It was mentioned in the U.S. intelligence community's report on Russian hacking in January of last year. And Russian journalists actually have done quite a lot of work on uncovering its activities. And one of them I spoke to last fall - his name is Andrey Zakharov - found out that this troll factory - well, that its posts were getting 70 million views a week in the run-up to the U.S. election. It had 90 employees on the American desk, and it was relatively cheap. He found out it cost $2 million over two years.
MARTIN: Now, is there any real world consequence for these individuals? I mean, it seems unlikely that Russia would extradite them since, as you've just told us, they keep insisting that they had nothing to do with it. So what's going to happen to them? Anything?
KIM: Well, there was commentary, actually, on Russian state television today. And it said that these people actually have to fear getting arrested if they travel abroad. Just this week, two Russian citizens were convicted by a New Jersey court for hacking in a credit card fraud scheme, really, on an industrial scale. And they had both been arrested while visiting the Netherlands. And now there's the fear, according to state TV, that these people could also be nabbed if they traveled to third countries. But you're right. They don't have to fear being extradited.
MARTIN: That's NPR's Lucian Kim joining us from Moscow.
Lucian, thank you.
KIM: Thank you, Michel.
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