Senate Democrats call for more sanctions against ‘Putin’s chef’ following CNN investigation

Working with researchers from Clemson University, CNN has found a Russian troll operation targeting American voters and, for the first time, we have confronted the people on the ground behind it — and it’s not where you might expect. With help from Facebook and Twitter, who had already been investigating some of these accounts and who corroborated our findings – this is a never-before seen look at how Russia is once again trying to influence America’s democracy. CNN’s Clarissa Ward reports.

Senate Democrats have called on the European Union to introduce fresh sanctions against Yevgeny Prighozin, the man believed to behind many Russian troll operations, as a result of the CNN investigation that published Thursday and exposed a Russian troll farm in Ghana.

Five leading senators signed the letter calling for coordinated sanctions against Prigozhin.

“As the presidential election in the United States draws closer, our concerns about foreign interference here have intensified,” the senators write. “These threats, however, are not limited to the United States — given the broad reach and expanding nature of Prigozhin and the Wagner Group’s malign activities abroad, we urge the European Union to take steps to constrain their ability to operate and to deter the Kremlin from engaging in these activities.”

“The U.S. and European Union should be unified in facing this common threat and take concrete measures to isolate this malign actor and his affiliated firms. This includes sanctions, but also a joint diplomatic approach to urge that countries avoid engaging with Mr. Prigozhin, Wagner and any other organization associated with him.”

On Thursday, CNN revealed that a Russian troll farm based out of Ghana and Nigeria was operating under the front of an NGO called EBLA, Eliminating Barriers for the Liberation of Africa.

The trolling accounts were focused almost exclusively on racial issues in the US, promoting black empowerment and often displaying anger towards white Americans.

Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have now taken down all 274 accounts associated with this effort. In total, they were followed by more than a quarter of a million people.

The letter to the EU was signed among others by Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s ranking Democrat Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia and Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Democratic member Bob Menendez of New Jersey. Democratic Sens. Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Sherrod Brown of Ohio also signed.

In a separate statement to CNN, Adam Schiff, a California Democrat the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the discoveries show “the Russians will not stop.”

Schiff also noted that the use of Ghana as the trolling hub was a significant development in Russia’s meddling tactics.

“The potential use of cutouts on another continent meant to mask Russian connections is a startling signal that our adversaries continue to pursue new and inventive ways to cover their tracks and evade detection,” Schiff remarked.

Prigozhin is the founder of the Internet Research Agency, which was responsible for much of the foreign trolling activity aimed at the 2016 and 2018 US election campaigns, according to the US government.

He is so close to the Kremlin that he is nicknamed “Putin’s chef.”

A CNN request for comment from Prigozhin’s holding company, Concord Management, on the Ghana trolling operation went unanswered.

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