До свидания! Russian Agent Maria Butina Out of Prison, Soon to Be Out of the Country

Maria Butina mugshot

До свидания, that means goodbye.

Russian national Maria Butina is out of prison after 15 months behind bars and is soon to be out of the country, Friday reporting on the situation confirmed. Butina, who was sentenced to 18 months in prison after pleading pleaded guilty in Dec. 2018 to conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government, is expected to be deported to Moscow, per CNN.

Butina admitted to traveling to the United States so she could make connections with members of the Republican Party, and the National Rifle Association. Proseuctos said Butina’s handler was Alexander Torshina close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Butina and Torshin wanted to influence American politics on behalf of the Russian government, and do it in a way that could possibly hurt U.S. interests, authorities further said.

While Butina’s lawyer told the judge that his client did not work for the Russian government and that his client would have registered as a foreign agent if she knew she had to do so, Judge Tanya Chutkan didn’t accept this version of events. Chutkan called Butina’s work for Torshin “sophisticated,” “dangerous,” and “no simple misunderstanding by an overeager foreign student.”

In an interview with NBC News, Valery Butin, Butina’s father, painted the portrait of a woman who was very familiar with guns and perhaps naive about the laws of a new society.

Butin claimed that his daughter’s interest in guns started when she was 10 years old and she knew how to shoot from a young age.

“She saw me working with guns and learned about [them] from childhood,” he said. “She learned how to shoot, how to assemble and disassemble a gun.” He said that Butina could put together and break down AK-47s just like many other Russian youths.

Butina, at sentencing, lamented her rise and fall. “I have three degrees but now I’m a convicted felon with no money, no job and no freedom,” she said. According to CNN, Butina plans on returning to Barnaul, her Siberian hometown.

Butina’s American boyfriend, Republican operative Paul Erickson, was implicated after prosecutors suggested she started her relationship with him to gain access to political figures. He wasn’t charged in this case, but was charged in South Dakota for an alleged fraud scheme. Erickson pleaded not guilty. Lawyers for Erickson vowed to mount a “vigorous defense” and called the charges “unfounded.”

Vladimir Putin previously made a point to address and discredit the charges against Butina just days before retired U.S. Marine Paul Whelan was arrested in Russia for alleged espionage in Dec. 2018. Putin claimed that Butina was “forced” to admit her guilt and he distanced the Russian government from her, while also claiming he doesn’t abide by the Code of Hammurabi.

“As for the fate of Russian nationals, we do care about them, including the fact that Butina is being forced to admit something over there. I cannot understand what she could possibly have admitted, since she was not following any instructions from the Russian Government or its agencies,” he said. “This is a very sensitive area, and we will not act according to the laws of the Code of Hammurabi here. The law of retaliation states, ‘An eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth.’ We need to act very cautiously here, and we need to be real.”

Putin also said he didn’t understand why Butina confessed.

“I don’t understand what she could confess to since she was not carrying out any government assignments [….] whatever she said was under threat of 10 to 15 years in jail,” he said. “I don’t understand what they jailed her for. There are no grounds.”

Whelan has been detained ever since, and a Russian judge this week extended that pre-trial detainment.

Alberto Luperon contributed to this report.

[Image via Alexandria Detention Center]

Matt Naham is managing editor of Law&Crime. He formerly worked as news editor and weekend editor at Rare.

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