Accusations of Moscow troll campaign to sway US election are ‘blabber’, says Russian foreign minister

Allegations that Moscow ran a hidden multimillion dollar troll campaign using social media to try to to sway the 2016 presidential election are “blabber”, Russia’s foreign minister has said.

Sergey Lavrov on Saturday dismissed the extraordinary US indictment released on Friday that accused 13 Russians of an elaborate plot aimed in part at helping Republican Donald Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Mr Lavrov told a high level audience of policiticians and security officials at the Munich Security Conference that he had "no response” to the accusations levelled by US special counsel Robert Mueller.

But he went on: “You can publish anything, and we see those indictments multiplying, the statements multiplying."

He argued that US officials including Mike Pence, vice president, also have said no country influenced the US election results.

Inside Russia’s ‘troll factory’: The agency accused of interfering in the US election

Mr Lavrov added: "Until we see the facts, everything else is just blabber."

But speaking immediately after the Russia’s top diplomat, Donald Trump’s national security adviser called the evidence of a plot “incontrovertible”.

When asked by a Russian audience member if the US should begin dialogue with Russian cyber security experts, Lt Gen HR McMaster joked: “I am surprised there are any Russian cyber experts available based on how active most of them have been in undermining our democracies in the West.”

He said Russia was engaged in a modern version of Cold War era espionage and deception.

He said: “As you can see from the FBI indictment the evidence is now incontrovertible and available in the public domain.”

Whereas intelligence agencies had in the past been unwilling or unable to say who was to blame for attacks he said with the release of the indictment “it’s going to be very apparent to everyone.”

But Lt Gen McMaster said the campaign was not working. He claimed the effort to polarise societies had only resulted in Americans uniting against Russia.

An extraordinary US indictment, released on Friday, criminally charged 13 Russians with an elaborate plot aimed at disparaging Hillary Clinton and helping Donald Trump.

The 37-page document went into forensic detail about a huge social media campaign by the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency, combined with on-the-ground Cold War-style politicking.

It said two Russian operatives, Aleksandra Krylova and Anna Bogacheva, had traveled as tourists through at least nine states in June 2014 to gather intelligence, equipped with "evacuation scenarios" if they were caught.

The operation, which included setting up fake political rallies and stealing the identities of Americans, was said to have been funded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of the Russian president known as "Putin’s cook".

Sergei Kislyak, Russia’s former ambassador to the US, told the conference the allegations by Mr Mueller were "simply fantasies".

Profile | Lt General HR McMaster

According to the indictment one of those charged, Irina Viktorovna Kaverzina, wrote an email to a friend saying: "I created all these pictures and posts, and the Americans believed that it was written by their people."

Later, on September 13 last year, she wrote: "We had a slight crisis here at work: the FBI busted our activity (not a joke)."

Donald Trump’s national security adviser yesterday also warned of the growing power of Iran’s network of proxies in the Middle East and called on nations to cut off funding from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Lt Gen HR McMaster said that Tehran was supplying ever more destructive weapons to its militia groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

He said: “What’s particularly concerning is that his network of proxies is becoming more and more capable as Iran seeds more and more capable, more and more destructive weapons into these networks. So we think the time is now to act against Iran.”

He called on major investors in Iran, which include Japan, Germany and South Korea as well as Russia and China, to try to ensure their money was not being channelled into the IRGC.

Lt Gen McMaster said: “When you invest in Iran you are investing in the IRGC. You might as well just cut the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps a cheque and say: ‘Please use this to commit more murder across the greater Middle East’.”

He added: “I think it’s time for all of us to focus our business intelligence efforts to figure out who we are really doing business with and lets do everything we can to cut off funding to IRGC.”

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