- Putin was interviewed by Megyn Kelly for NBC’s Nightly News on Friday night
- He said had not seen proof yet that any Russian nationals broke the law
- He asked the US to give him ‘information’ or proof of ‘what they had done’
- 13 Russian nationals were charged last month by Robert Mueller’s team
- Among those charged last month is his ‘personal chef’ Yevgeny Prigozhin
- Prigozhin is accused of orchestrating and funding the interference through a ‘troll factory’ in St. Petersburg
- Together, they posted on Facebook and Twitter to cause discord in the US with minimal affect
- Their efforts began before Trump’s campaign but they later put their efforts behind endorsing him, Clinton and Sanders
- Putin would not give Kelly an answer on whether he would extradite those charged
- He said he would handle it only through the ‘proper’ legal channels instead
Vladimir Putin has claimed there is still no hard evidence that Russian nationals interfered in the 2016 presidential election and that everything put forward so far, including the indictment against 13 of them, amounts to ‘yelling and hollering’.
He made the comments in a sit-down interview with Megyn Kelly which aired on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt on Friday.
It was their second meeting – Putin sat down with the former Fox star at the start of her NBC career last year.
During Friday’s interview, he suggested that the evidence described by in Mueller’s indictment was not proof of interference and not enough for him to take action against the people it accuses.
‘I have to see first what they’ve done. Give us materials, give us information,’ he said.
The 13 Russians were charged with an array of crimes but it has never been expected that they would be extradited to face justice.
What Putin ignored in the questioning from Kelly – or what has been shown of it so far – is whether he not he ordered the alleged meddling himself.
He has close ties to the head of the alleged meddling operation, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who started the troll factory before Trump announced his campaign as a vehicle to spread pro-Kremlin material on social media.
He then seemed to shift his argument to say that he would only hold the people responsible if they had broken Russian laws, ignoring any US laws which they may have been in breach of.
‘You must have people with legal degrees 100 percent you do and people who are well educated who must understand that we, Russia, cannot prosecute anyone if they have not violated Russian law.
‘If you don’t have a legal degree I can explain to you,’ he said.
Kelly, who was a practicing lawyer before she turned her hand to journalism, quickly fired back: ‘I do!’
Putin continued: ‘Then you have to understand what it takes is an official request to the general prosecutor of the Russian federation.
‘Give us a document. Give us an official request.
‘This has to go through official channels, not through the press or yelling and hollering in the United States Congress.’
More of the interview will be shown over the coming days, according to the show’s host Lester Holt.
In February, Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller charged 13 Russian nationals with election interference.
They operated out of a alleged ‘troll factory’ in St. Petersburg where they wrote a limited number of Facebook posts to allegedly cause discord in the US and later after the election promote President Trump.
Prigozhin is known as Putin’s personal chef and has close ties to senior political figures in Russia.
He fell into favor with them through his luxury restaurant in St. Petersburg and is now the caterer of choice for any official state events.
Before the troll factory, he had a multi-million dollar deal providing catering for the Russian military.
The deal lasted one year but pocketed him almost a billion dollars. A year later, he launched the Internet Research Agency, the official name for the marketing operation.
Prigozhin has never been the face of it. That honor was given to a retired police colonel who is its CEO on paper.
He has close ties to the Kremlin and is said to have funded the entire operation with money he earned through military catering contracts.
With his money, he funded the alleged ‘troll factory’ which was launched first as a pro-Kremlin operation to promote Putin and his allies online.
Alegally one of its operations was to sow discord in the US and when Donald Trump announced his presidential campaign, the trolls put their support behind him.
They dedicated their efforts to furthering his chances at victory and posed as Americans on fake grassroots organization pages to organize rallies to support him.
They also organised support for Bernie Sanders and arranged Anti Trump protests outside of Trump tower were Micheal Moore made an apperance amongest others like CNN and other MSM outlets
There was no sign of collusion between the trolls and Trump’s campaign team.
There is no evidence that the meddling worked but US officials including the president’s National Security Adviser, HR McMaster, have said it is irrefutable that Russia at least tried to sway the result.
When the indictment was announced last month, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov gave a similarly indifferent answer to it.
‘They are talking about Russian citizens, but we have not heard in announcements from Washington accusations about the involvement of the Russian state, the Kremlin and the Russian government.
‘This evidence has no grounds and we don’t consider it overwhelming, we don’t regard it as fair and cannot agree with it,’ he said.
The 13 Russian nationals charged with interfering in the election: Putin’s ‘chef’, a female spy who came to the US in 2014 to gather intel and a computer whiz who used servers to hide ‘troll factory’s location’
1. Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin, 56, – The boss, also known as ‘Putin’s Chef’
According to the indictment released on Friday by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s office, Prigozhin led the effort.
The 56-year-old is said to have used his businesses, Concord Catering and Concord Management and Consulting, to fund the Internet Research Agency, known as the ‘Kremlin Troll factory’ which was the vehicle for the alleged interference.
Prigozhin paid the salaries of the other 12 defendants who worked for the research company, it is alleged, through this financial backing which prosecutors started in 2014.
The businessman is given the nickname ‘Putin’s Chef’ because he owns restaurants favored by Putin as the venues for state dinners.
A 2016 profile of him by the Russian newsite Meduza described him as an ex-con who graduated from a boarding school only to join a gang and become convicted of attempted robbery and prostitution. He spent nine years in jail.
He gained access to St. Petersburg’s elite in 1996 when he and a friend opened Staraya Tamozhnya, one of the city’s finest restaurants. Until then, he had worked with his father more modesty in grocery stores and selling hot dogs.
He opened his New Island, his second restaurant, in 1997. Putin was first drawn to it in 2001 when he took the then French president Jacques Chirac there for a meal and Prigozhin served them.
He continued to cater to Putin’s staff at the restaurant over the years and grew closer to them. Soon, he became the go-to caterer for official state events in Moscow.
In 2010, he launched what was billed as a good-cause initiative to feed hungry schoolchildren in St Petersburg.
Putin attended the launch of food factory to celebrate it and the initiative was funded generously by state-owned bank Vnesheconombank.
A year into the project, parents became angry when they realized the food being produced was full of additives.
He then started feeding other school children in Moscow with more success, having obtained private contracts from the city’s mayor.
Prigozhin won similarly lucrative contracts with the military.
In 2012, he signed a $1.2billion contract which had him provide 90 percent of the meals the Russian army’s soldiers consumed. The system of outsourcing the military’s meals ended in 2013.
It gave him his biggest paycheck and associates said at the time he was known to pay for private jets with cash.
Throughout, Prigozhin was a dedicated patriot and was proud of his association to Putin’s government.
This lucrative relationship with the state carried on until 2013 when the laws changed and outside caterers were no longer brought in to provide the military with meals.
By then, Prigozhin had earned more than $1billion from the state through the deal.
The ‘troll factory’ (Internet Research Agency) was founded that same year. Though Mikhail Bystrov was named as its owner and CEO, Russian journalists learned of Prigozhin’s connection to it early on.
What specifically prompted him to do it or if anyone put him up to it remains unclear.
In its genesis, the factory’s employees had one job – to post complimentary post on social media about Putin and the government and besmirch the names of their opponents.
When Prigozhin’s association to the Internet Research Agency was revealed, he faced increased scrutiny from critics.
An article in 2015 highlighted how the factory worked and the conflict Prigozhin’s relationship to Putin posed.
With the bad press about him growing, Prigozhin attempted in 2016 to have himself ‘erased’ from the internet. It coincided with the introduction of a new bill which gave an individual the right to be forgotten.
The law was pushed by Putin and states that websites must delete content such as news stories about an individual if it breaks the law, is false or is ‘obsolete’.
To date, Prigozhin has filed 15 lawsuits against the Russian search engine Yandex which is uncensored.
2. Mikhail Bystrov, retired police colonel and the CEO frontman for the ‘troll factory’
Bystrov was listed as the CEO of Internet Research Agency and his name has been linked to other companies which have been tied to the election interference.
Little is known of him other than that was an employee of the state who was born in 1958.
He, unlike Prigozhin, has not been pictured publicly with Putin and has kept himself out of the spotlight.
According to Mueller’s investigation, he joined IRC in 2014 as its highest ranking employee.
‘Bystrov was the general director. He subsequently served as the head of various other entities used by the organization to mask its activities, for example, Glavset LLC, where he was listed as that entity’s general director,’ it reads.
3. Mikhail Leonidovich Burchik, aka Mikhail Abramov, the second in command
Burchik was Bystrov’s right-hand man at the organization, according to Mueller’s complaint.
He used the name Mikhail Abramov too and was instrumental in orchestrating Project Lakhta, the generously funded project which officials say was the start of the interference.
At conception, it had a budget of the equivalent of $1.25million. Lakhta involved both US and Russian-targeted interference, it claimed.
He was in charge of meetings, structure and personnel, according to Mueller’s indictment, had one-on-ones with Prigozhin.
4. Sergey Pavlovich Polozov, IT whiz who used US servers to hide ‘troll factory’s’ real location in Russia
Polozov was in charge of the IT department and his biggest responsibility was hiding the location of the Internet Research’s Agency HQ, now known to be 55 Savushkina Street in the Olgina neighborhood of St Petersburg.
Prosecutors allege that the posts its employees wrote were designed to look like they had been written by Americans who favored Trump.
This was possible, Mueller says, through the ‘procurement of US servers’ which at first glance made them look like they came from America if they were ever probed.
Mueller’s indictment alleges: ‘Polozov served as the manager of the IT department and oversaw the procurement of US servers and other company infrastructure that masked the organization’s Russian location when conducting operations within the United States.
‘To hide their Russian identities, [they], particular Polozov, purchased space on computer servers located inside the US in order to set up virtual private networks (VPNs). They connected from Russia to the US-based infrastructure by way of these VPNs and conducted activity in the US, including accessing online social media accounts, opening new accounts, and communicating with real US persons – while masking the Russian origin and control of the activity,’ it reads.
5. Aleksandra Yurevna Krylova, female spy who ‘came to US in 2013 to gather information and report it back’
Mueller’s complaint gives little detail of the background lives of the lesser known employees and there is scarce information about them available.
It is suggested though that Krylova, one of four women named, was the company’s spy.
‘In 2014, Krylova traveled to the United States under false pretenses for the purpose of collecting intelligence to inform the organization’s operations,’ the indictment reads.
6. Anna Vladislavovna Bogacheva, data analyst for alleged US interference dubbed ‘the translator project’
Bogacheva was tied to what the employees referred to as ‘the translator project’. It was part of the larger Project Lakhta but focused only on US audiences, it is claimed.
She too is alleged to have traveled to the US under false pretenses to gather information.
Bogacheva only worked for the company for three months between April and July 2015 but she is listed as one of the defendants.
7. Maria Anatolyevna Bovda, project manager
Bovda is described in the indictment as the ‘head’ of the translator project, the designated branch of the wider pro-Putin effort which focused on US audiences.
She worked there between November 2013 and October 2014, according to the complaint.
8. Robert Sergeyevish Bovda, second in charge of project
It is not clear from the indictment whether he and Maria Bovda are related, but he acted beneath her as the second in charge of the ‘translator’ project and worked at the company over the same dates.
He too is accused of trying to enter the US under false pretenses to collect information but he did not obtain a visa and could not make the trip.
9. Dzheykhun Nasimi Ogly, took over before the election
Ogly, who also used the names Jayhoon Aslanov and Ajay Aslanov took over when Maria Bovda left the project in late 2014 and he was at its helm during the election, it is claimed.
He was also listed as a director for another company which has been tied to interference and is owned by Prigozhin.
10. Vadim Vladimirovich Podkopaev, data analyst
Podkopaev joined in June 2014 and drafted social media content to be blasted by the ‘trolls’.
He also worked as a data analyst, targeting US audiences, according to the complaint.
11. Gleb Igorevich Vasilchenko, pre-election ‘troll’
Vasilchenko is accused of posting under numerous social media accounts which the factory operated from 2014 until September 2016, two months before the election.
He went on to work for ‘sub groups’ which were also owned by Prigozhin and which also worked to interfere with the election, it is claimed.
As per the complaint, he ‘was responsible for posting, monitoring and updating the social media content of many organization-controlled accounts while posing as US persons or US grassroots organizations.
12. Irina Viktorovna Kaverzina, ‘posed as multiple US voters online’
The fourth woman charged, she is alleged to have used multiple social media accounts to pose as an American and make influential posts about politics and Donald Trump.
She joined in October 2014.
When US officials launched their investigation in 2017, Kaverzine allegedly let slip to a family member that they had been ‘busted’ and told how she had to spend time ‘covering her tracks’.
‘We had a slight crisis here at work: the FBI busted our activity (not a joke). So I got preoccupied with covering tracks together with colleagues. I created all these pictures and posts and the Americans believed it was written by their people,’ she wrote.
13. Vladimir Venkov, pre-election troll
Venkov, one of three designated trolls, allegedly shared the responsibilities of Kaverzina and Vasilchenko to post content online while posing as an American.