Russian ‘agent’ Maria Butina to be released from US prison on Friday

Source: Published: 2019/10/25 1:29:16


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

She said she was on a quest to establish better relations between Russia and the US, and enrolled in university in Washington while living with a Republican operative. 

But she was arrested in July 2018 on allegations that she was engaging in espionage, though she had no connection with Russia's established spy agencies. 

In December, Butina, 30, entered a plea deal on a charge that she acted as an illegal, unregistered foreign agent, and was sentenced to 18 months in prison, nearly half of which was credited as already served. 

Under broader attack in the US for interfering in the 2016 election, Moscow made the Siberian native a cause célèbre, with the foreign ministry posting her picture prominently in its social media accounts, calling to "Free Maria." 

Her current appeals lawyer, a Washington public defender, did not reply to questions about her plans, but said in a filing this week that she would return to Russia. 

Russian media also reported that she was expected to be back within days. 

But it remained unclear whether she was an intelligence operative positioned to infiltrate US political circles, or just someone genuinely creating people-to-people channels of cooperation who fell victim to a higher level of intrigue relat¬ing 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," she said.


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