The sponsors of the Russian “troll factory” that meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign have launched a new American website ahead of the U.S. midterm election in November. A Russian oligarch has links to Maryland’s election services. Russian bots and trolls are deploying increasingly sophisticated, targeted tools. And a new indictment suggests the Kremlin itself was behind previous hacking efforts in support of Donald Trump. As the U.S. leader prepares to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday, many Americans are wondering: Is the Kremlin trying yet again to derail a U.S. election? While U.S. intelligence officials call it a top concern, they haven’t uncovered a clear, coordinated Russian plot to mess with the campaign. At least so far. It could be that Russian disruptors are waiting until the primaries are over in September and the races become more straightforward – or it could be they are waiting until the U.S. presidential vote in 2020, which matters more for U.S. foreign policy. In the meantime, an array of bots, trolls and sites like USAReally appear to be testing the waters.
USAReally was launched in May by the Federal News Agency, part of an empire allegedly run by Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin that includes the Internet Research Agency – the “troll factory” whose members were indicted by U.S. special investigator Robert Mueller this year.
USAReally’s Moscow offices are in the same building as the Federal News Agency. The original troll factory was also initially based with Federal News Agency offices in St. Petersburg, in a drab four-story building where a huge “For Rent/Sale” sign now hangs. The site believed to house the troll factory’s current offices is a more modern, seven-story complex with reflective blue windows in a different but similarly industrial neighborhood of St. Petersburg. Associated Press reporters were not allowed inside, and troll factory employees declined to be interviewed.