A Russian journalist who had already published an extensive story detailing the efforts of The Internet Research Agency (IRA) in St. Petersburg, Russia, to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election told The Washington Post on Sunday that he was surprised special counsel Robert Mueller's indictments of 13 Russians and three Russian companies on Friday received such coverage.
Andrey Zakharov said his article had not even been regarded as a bombshell when it was published in October, and did not even elicit an official reaction from the Russian government.
Much of the information Mueller released on Friday about the IRA's efforts to influence the election was in Zakharov's 4,500-word article in a Russian business magazine, RBC.
The report described in great detail how the "American department" of the IRA used Facebook, Twitter and other tactics to inflame tensions ahead of the 2016 election.
Zakharov told the Post that only some people in the indictments were the real top managers of the IRA, but that the other staff mentioned in Mueller's report are very incidental.
He said that "they seem to have got people who were not careful – who used their own email accounts or registered Twitter accounts to Russian phone numbers."
Zakharov also told NPR that posts by the IRA were getting some 70 million views a week in the run-up to the election, and that the budget of the American desk of the IRA was only $2 million over two years.
Zakharov told the Post said it appeared that Mueller's team probably had read his report and that some American journalists has contacted him, but "Nobody who said they were from Mueller's team contacted me. I've never told people more than we wrote anyway."
Zakharov said that he already investigated the IRA in March, but had not given the story much thought until Facebook and Twitter announced at the beginning of September that they closed numerous accounts.
At that point, he said, American journalists started to ask more about the IRA's activity, so he expanded the probe that resulted in the October article.
Zakharov said he "tried to focus only on what happened [and] didn't try to understand whether there was real influence on the election or not."
He also stressed that "everyone has focused on the pro-Trump groups. What we saw was that they were trying to spread tension in the society, talking about problems people had with black people, Islam and so on. They organized anti-Trump rallies also. Yes, they were active against Hillary [Clinton], but they were not always pro-Trump."
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