Who Is Elena Branson? 'Russian Agent' in U.S. Accused of Directly Corresponding with Putin

A complaint charging Elena Branson, a dual Russian-American national, with acting and conspiring to act in the United States illegally as an unregistered Russian agent was unsealed by a New York federal court on Tuesday.

She is also accused of corresponding directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of opening a Russian cultural organization in New York.

Branson, 61, allegedly received thousands of dollars from the Russian government to run the Russian Center New York, which she founded in 2012, a statement from the U.S. Justice Department said.

Prosecutors described the organization as "a propaganda center" that served the interests of the Russian government. One of its main campaigns was called "I love Russia." It promoted Russian history and culture, and was aimed at young Americans.

Prosecutors allege that campaigns like "I love Russia" exemplify Branson's attempts "to act at the behest of the Russian government to illegally promote its interests in the United States".

The 61-year-old is alleged to have corresponded directly with Putin and met with a high-ranking Russian minister before founding the Russian Center New York.

The Russian Center New York lobbied Hawaiian officials not to change the name of a formerly Russian fort on the island of Kauai. It also arranged a trip for Hawaiian officials to meet with Russian counterparts in Moscow, prosecutors said.

Branson was also charged with purposely failing to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), conspiring to commit visa fraud and lying to the FBI.

Prosecutors alleged that she was involved in a wide-ranging influence and lobbying scheme with funding and direction from the Russian government, while deceiving the American people.

Prosecutors alleged Branson "actively subverted foreign agent registration laws in the United States in order to promote Russian policies and ideology."

"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," said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York.

Prosecutors allege Branson knew she was supposed to register as an agent of the Russian government but chose not to do so, instead instructing others regarding how to illegally avoid the same.

Alan Kohler, assistant director of the FBI's Counterintelligence Division, said: "While living in the United States for nearly a decade, she allegedly took money and direction from Russian government officials – including some at the Russian Embassy in Washington, DC—as she arranged meetings for Russian officials to lobby U.S. officials."

Prosecutors said Branson told the FBI in a September 2020 interview that she had never been asked by Moscow to coordinate meetings with U.S. officials. She left the U.S. for Russia shortly after the interview.

Newsweek has contacted Branson for comment.

Elena Branson
Elena Branson, a dual Russian-American national, has been charged of acting and conspiring to act in the United States illegally as an unregistered Russian agent. A photo of Branson from the organization she founded, The Russian Center New York. The Russian Center New York