Three Russian nationals were charged with trying to influence a United States election by funding a candidate in a municipal race in St. Petersburg, Florida, in 2019, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on Tuesday.

Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov, a Moscow resident who founded the Kremlin-funded Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia, allegedly worked with the Russian Federal Security Service to carry out a “malign influence campaign” on U.S. elections, the DOJ wrote in a statement. The indictment alleged that four Florida-based members of the African People’s Socialist Party and the Uhuru Movement joined the effort.

Russia previously faced accusations of seeking to influence democratic elections, and the latest accusation comes as tensions between the United States and Russia are high amid the war in Ukraine. After Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the “special military operation” on February 24, 2022, the Biden administration provided Ukraine weaponry, sparking criticism from the Russian government.

Ionov, along with Federal Security Service officers Aleksey Borisovich Sukhodolov and Yegor Sergeyevich Popov, are accused of conspiring “to directly and substantially influence democratic elections in the United States,” the DOJ said.

Russia Influenced Florida Election
Election workers set up voting booths at an early voting site established by the City of Orlando and the Orlando Magic at the Amway Center, the home arena of the NBA’s Magic, on October 15, 2020, in Orlando, Florida. The Department of Justice on Tuesday announced that a group of Russian nationals and U.S. citizens have been charged with trying to influence a 2019 election in St. Petersburg, Florida, on behalf of the Kremlin.
Paul Hennessy/Getty

They allegedly funded and directed the political campaign of a candidate running in St. Petersburg’s 2019 municipal elections, when a handful of city council seats were contested.

“The superseding indictment alleges that Popov expressly referred to this effort on behalf of the FSB as ‘our election campaign,’ and Ionov referring to the candidate as the ‘candidate whom we supervise,'” the DOJ said.

Authorities did not name which candidate Russia sought to support or the tactics used to boost the candidate. When reached by Newsweek on Tuesday afternoon, the DOJ said no further comment was available.

A spokesperson for St. Petersburg told Newsweek that the local police department was informed by federal law enforcement authorities about the indictment but had no role in the investigation.

Mayor Kenneth T. Welch said in a statement to Newsweek that the allegations are “troubling.”

“It is important to underscore that the City of St. Petersburg does not support, condone or tolerate any foreign government engaging in activities to undermine or influence our elections,” Welch said. “The investigation is in the purview of our federal law enforcement agencies, and we will be monitoring the process going forward.”

Newsweek also reached out to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ office for comment.

The defendants allegedly planned for their election interference to extend beyond the St. Petersburg elections. They allegedly discussed the 2020 presidential election as the “main topic of the year,” according to the DOJ.

Beyond election interference, Ionov also allegedly sought to create a false appearance of popular support for Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory, including the Donetsk region, which Putin has claimed to seek the “liberation” of through his invasion, the DOJ said.

The following U.S. citizens were charged in the indictment: Omali Yeshitela, Penny Joanne Hess, Jesse Nevel and Augustus C. Romain Jr. Yeshitela is the founder of the African People’s Socialist Party.

Concerns about Russia influencing U.S. elections have grown in recent years amid frayed relations between Washington and Moscow. Prior to the 2022 midterm elections, Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman with ties to Putin and founder of the Wagner Group of mercenaries that has played a significant role in the war, admitted that Russia has interfered with U.S. elections and planned to continue to do so.

“Gentlemen, we have interfered [in U.S. elections], we are interfering and we will continue to interfere. Carefully, accurately, surgically and in our own way, as we know how to do,” Prigozhin said.

However, the White House said following his remarks that there were no “credible threats” that Russia would be able to influence the elections.

Allegations of election meddling first began following the 2016 presidential election, when Russia allegedly interfered to help former President Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton. U.S. intelligence agencies, Congress and special counsel Robert Mueller concluded that Russia conducted a systematic campaign to influence the election.