On March 8, the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) filed a six-count criminal complaint against Elena Branson (aka Elena Chernykh) a dual citizen of U.S./Russia. Branson is accused of “acting and conspiring to act in the United States illegally as an agent of the Russian government.” Branson has not been arrested, as she sits comfortably in Moscow, having departed the U.S. in October 2021.

Who is Elena Branson?

According to the criminal complaint and the DoJ announcement, Branson’s work was designed to influence the opinion of the U.S. populace. She used Russia’s talking points and acted as a clandestine adjunct of both the Russian diplomatic mission, as well as, various organizations located in Russia which have demonstrated association with Russia’s intelligence apparatus. The filed documents detail how she attempted to navigate within the U.S. laws with respect to the requirement to register as a foreign agent as required under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA).

Furthermore, her prior, confirmed association with Martina Butina, who was previously imprisoned for similar actions, not only provided investigators insight into the Russian playbook used by Butina and now as alleged by Branson. Her efforts were designed to shape opinion, not only within the Russian diaspora within the U.S. but also with U.S. youth interested in Russian studies, businesspersons, and elected officials.

Branson was interviewed by the FBI in late September 2021 about her work. During the interview she dissembled, obfuscated, and generally tried to distance herself from the allegation that her efforts required FARA registration as they were being made at the direction and behest of the Russian Federation.

Her subsequent actions also indicate that she was spooked, as she quickly orchestrated her departure from the United States.

Branson’s organizations

Two organizations that Branson created that received funding and direction from Russian government entities are the Russian Center New York (RCNY) and the Russian Community Council of the USA (KSORS).


Branson’s RCNY received tens of thousands of dollars of support from Russia, and served as a host of various events with the goal of putting individuals of interest to the Russian Federation in proximity to officials of the Russian government for the purpose of influence and relationship development. Of prime importance to the Russian government was to identify the ethnic Russian youth within the United States and to shape their impression of the Russian Federation.

Furthermore, RCNY was directed to influence the efforts on the island of Kauai, in Hawaii to rename Fort Elizabeth, built by the Russian-American company in 1817 and now a U.S. historic landmark. She reached down into the locally elected council to influence them in their deliberations. In addition, RCNY facilitated the travel of these elected officials to Russia. Branson spoke at the 200th anniversary celebration of the fort, sharing “the importance of Fort Elizabeth to the Russian community.” These efforts were apparently successful, given the national historical site continues to carry the name, “Fort Elizabeth


Under the KSORS umbrella, she organized the “I Love Russia” campaign in the U.S. targeting youth forums with the intent to promote Russian history and culture. Furthermore, KSORS served as an adjunct mouthpiece to the Russian Embassy in the United States by echoing and supporting various positions at the direction of the Embassy. Within her correspondence to various Russian entities to acquire funding she highlighted how KSORS’s goal was to amplify information “about the activities of organizations created by Russian compatriots to form a positive image of Russia and Moscow among Americans.”

What is next?

For those who may have attended events hosted by KSORS or RCNY, there is a need to look back on what was shared, processed and opinions formed, as adjustment may be necessary given the unseen hand of Russia was actively at play.

In October-November 2021, approximately $179,000 was transferred to her Russian bank accounts, in the name of Elena Chernykh, by an individual identified as “her boyfriend.” She has also appeared on Russian television, interviewed by none other than Butina. During her interview she noted that she fled because she feared being arrested and prosecuted, like Butina.

She is correct, the DoJ, would like to arrest her and is prepared to prosecute her.

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Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008). He is the founder of securelytravel.com