A series of media reports over the weekend revealed that Libyan authorities have arrested a pair of Russian men in connection with alleged attempts to interfere in Libya’s upcoming election.
The two men, Maxim Shugalei and Alexander Prokofiev, have denied any attempt at interference. But both have direct links to an organization run by Alexander Malkevich, a Russian national sanctioned by the U.S. specifically for his prior attempts at targeting Americans with online disinformation via the online site “USA Really.”
American authorities have tied the “USA Really” site directly to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a sanctioned Russian national close to the Kremlin who allegedly oversaw Russia’s 2016 online disinformation campaign.
Malkevich has since left “USA Really,” but now leads the Foundation for the Protection of National Values — a Russian group for which Shugelai and Prokofiev were both working in Libya.
According to Bloomberg, Libyan authorities discovered a series of laptops and memory sticks connected to the men, identifying them as working with a group called “Fabrika Trollei,” or “Troll Factory.” A letter from the state prosecutor of the internationally-backed Tripoli government noted that the “Fabrika Trollei” specialized “in influencing elections that are to be held in several African states.” The AP noted that Shugelai has previously been linked to Russian attempts to interfere in Madagascar elections.
Malkevich denied to ThinkProgress any knowledge of the “Fabrika Trollei” group, although admitted that Shugelai works for Malkevich’s group. Bloomberg wrote that Shugelai is also “known to work for Prigozhin.” Malkevich described Shugelai to ThinkProgress as simply a “political scientist.”
Statements from Malkevich’s Foundation for the Protection of National Values claimed that Shugelai and Prokofiev “did not interfere in any way with electoral processes in Libya,” and that their work “was limited solely to monitoring the situation in the country.” The statements also noted that the two were arrested in May, although the details of their arrest only came out over the weekend.
The entire affair is “absolute nonsense,” Malkevich told ThinkProgress.
This is hardly the first time an outfit linked to Malkevich has been accused of interfering abroad. Apart from his work with “USA Really,” which regularly pumped disinformation aimed at Americans, Malkevich recently helped oversee fundraising efforts for the lawyers of Maria Butina, the convicted Russian foreign agent who herself worked closely with now-sanctioned former Russian official Alexander Torshin.
Those fundraising efforts for Butina’s American lawyers are ongoing, and include Alexander Ionov, a Russian national who helped build links between Russia and American secession groups in states like Texas and California.