Russian 'agent' Maria Butina gets released from US prison: Who is she?

Updated: Oct 26, 2019, 01:56 PM(IST)

Maria Butina, the Russian gun advocate who built a network of high-level Republican contacts before being arrested for spying, was freed from US prison Friday after serving nine months. Here's more about her.

(Text from Reuters)

Moscow meddling in US politics

The only Russian arrested and convicted in the three-year investigation of Moscow's interference in US politics, Butina parlayed ties with the NRA firearms lobby into a network of high-level Republican allies. That network brought her into contact with President Donald Trump before his 2016 election, as well as with one of his sons.

(Photograph:AFP)

Case heralded by Russia

The 30-year-old native of Siberia said she was on a quest to establish better relations between Russia and the United States, and enrolled in university in Washington while living with a Republican operative. She attended political rallies and NRA conventions, often with her powerful Moscow sponsor Alexander Torshin, a politician close to President Vladimir Putin. Her social media was full of pictures of her posing with various firearms around the United States, in some dressed in camouflage with an assault rifle and, in one, as a cowgirl with a giant six-shooter.

(Photograph:AFP)

The arrest

She was arrested in July 2018 on allegations she was engaging in espionage, though she had no connection with Russia's established spy agencies. In December, Butina entered a plea deal on a charge that she acted as an illegal, unregistered foreign agent, and was sentenced to 18 months in prison, half of which was credited as already served. The Russian foreign ministry made her into a cause celebre, placing a picture of her with the word "Free Butina" at the top of its social media pages. There was no immediate comment from Butina or her lawyer, but Russian media said she was expected back as early as Saturday.

(Photograph:Reuters)

Case remains murky

Even with her release, her case remained murky. US prosecutors watered-down early allegations that she was an operative of Russia's intelligence agencies, and described her only as funded by senior politician Torshin. But they maintained that she had a mission to infiltrate US political circles in an operation to "spot and assess" potential espionage targets. Part of that involved becoming the live-in girlfriend of a mid-level Republican operative who sponsored her as a graduate student at American University in Washington.

(Photograph:Reuters)

Butina's defence

Butina maintained that guided by Torshin, she genuinely sought to create people-to-people channels of cooperation and fell victim to a higher level of intrigue relating to Russian election interference. She told NPR radio from jail that, while a graduate student in politics at American University, she had only sought to be involved in "civil diplomacy." "I never hide my love to my motherland neither to this country... I love both countries, and I was building peace."

(Photograph:Reuters)

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