A top Russian diplomat says the U.S. allegation that a Russian woman helped oversee a social media effort to influence the 2018 U.S. midterm elections is shameful.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov made the comments in a statement Saturday, a day after U.S. prosecutors filed a criminal complaint against Elena Khusyaynova. The complaint says she helped oversee the finances at a so-called troll farm aiming to influence U.S. politics through social media postings.
The operation is one of those also named in an indictment this year for allegedly interfering in the 2016 U.S. election.
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"Washington, having spread shameless lies about the mythical 'hand of Moscow' for more than two years, is now trying to play the same card ahead of the approaching U.S. Election Day," Ryabkov said in the statement.
The troll farm, the Internet Research Agency, is one of a web of companies allegedly controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has reported ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The internet news site Federal News Agency, reportedly also linked to Prigozhin, said in a story Friday that Khusyaynova was its head bookkeeper and had worked with the company since its inception in 2014. But it dismissed the allegation of her involvement in election meddling, saying "probably a closer look should be taken at the cleaners and the pizza deliverer."
Other than her employment, little was publicly known about the 44-year-old Khusyaynova.
According to the Russian bailiffs' database, Khusaynova owes about 10 million rubles ($167,000) for bailiff fees in debt-recovery cases from recent years. How she incurred the debts or their total amount was not stated.
The independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that a bank in 2015 filed to recover 7.8 million rubles in debt and a court ordered foreclosure on a residence she owned in the Russian city of St. Petersburg.
The newspaper also reported that her son, Timur, had a channel on YouTube that he used to post videos critical of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The videos suspiciously received thousands of "likes" within minutes of being posted, according to the newspaper.
After YouTube shut down the channel, he established a presence on Vkontakte, a social media site similar to Facebook, the newspaper said.