World

Maria Butina: Russia Says Charges Against Alleged Spy Are Fabricated, Wants Prompt Release

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told his U.S. counterpart Mike Pompeo in a phone call on Saturday that the charges against alleged spy and National Rifle Association-linked gun activist Maria Butina are “fabricated” and urged her immediate release, according to news media reports.

Butina, a 29-year-old graduate from the Washington, D.C.-based American University, was arrested last Sunday and charged with conspiracy for allegedly attempting to infiltrate organizations that are active in U.S. policy. During the phone conversation, Lavrov underscored "the unacceptability of the actions of the U.S. authorities, who have arrested Russian citizen Maria Butina in the United States on the basis of fabricated charges, and the need for her early release."

Court documents indicated that "because Butina has been exposed as an illegal agent of Russia, there is the grave risk that she will appeal to those within that government with whom she conspired to aid her escape from the United States."

A criminal complaint from the Washington D.C. District Court pointed out that “while serving as Special Assistant to an official of the Russian Federation, Butina would meet in person and communicate via electronic means with that official for the purpose of developing and executing a plan to identify and exploit personal connections with U.S. persons having influence in American politics who were in positions to advance the interests of the Russian Federation.”

On Wednesday, prosecutors added more details about Butina’s case. According to court documents, Butina began a relationship with Republican operative Paul Erickson in order to gain membership of influential organizations. Furthermore, she became an assistant to Alexander Torshin, a Russian central bank official who met Donald Trump Jr. on the sidelines of an NRA convention in 2016.

“During the course of this investigation, the FBI has determined that Butina gained access through U.S. Person 1 to an extensive network of U.S. persons in positions to influence political activities in the United States. Butina, age 29, and U.S. Person 1, age 56, are believed to have cohabitated and been involved in a personal relationship during the course of Butina’s activities in the United States,” the court documents read. Erickson is 56 years old. 

The documents also noted that she offered sex to at least one more person in exchange for a job. Butina maintains her innocence.

Butina’s arrest prompted an online flashmob urging her release. “In connection with the arrest in the United States of Russian citizen Maria Butina, we’re starting a flashmob in her support. #FreeMariaButina. Put a photo of Maria as your avatar,”  the Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted Thursday.

During the phone conversation, both diplomats addressed other topics of mutual interest such as Syria and initiatives to promote the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Pompeo and Lavrov also discussed the significance of normalizing U.S.-Russia relations “on an equal and mutually beneficial basis.”

Editor's Pick
Golan Heights IDF drill

Syria Rebukes Trump Over Golan Heights

Syria responded to President Donald Trump's call to recognize the Golan Heights as part of Israel, with a Foreign Ministry official reportedly saying Syria is "determined to liberate this precious piece of Syrian national land through any means."