Russia Says Maria Butina Is #MeToo Movement Victim, While Russian TV Asks If NRA Activist Infiltrated Republican Party for Sex

Russian officials are attempting to portray the case of Maria Butina, a young Russian woman who pleaded guilty to conspiracy for infiltrating Republican political circles on behalf of the Russian government, as part of #MeToo, the anti-sexual harassment movement that began last year.

On Thursday, the Russian embassy in Canada tweeted a picture of Butina along with the #MeToo hashtag.

"#FreeMariaButina is a showcase that exposes all bias & hypocrisy of #feminist agenda, actively promoted in some western countries. When there's a real need for the mighty voices to speak up, we only have a deafening radio silence. Women's rights = human rights #MeToo someone?" the Russian Embassy tweeted.

The #MeToo movement began in late 2017 to combat sexual assault and harassment.

Butina, however, does not claim to be a victim of sexual violence. She pleaded guilty to conspiracy on December 13 and has agreed to cooperate with investigators and provide details about Russia's efforts to infiltrate and influence the Republican Party.

Butina, a 29-year-old Russian gun rights advocate and graduate student, was paid to carry out a project, titled "Description of the Diplomacy Project," with the aim of developing ties between Republican and Russian officials, according to court documents. Part of these efforts included infiltrating the National Rifle Association.

The Russian government, however, has attempted to portray Butina as a victim. At least one Russian politician claimed that Butina had only pleaded guilty because the U.S. had threatened to send her to the Guantanamo Bay military prison. Russian spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has described Butina as a "prisoner of conscience" and claimed that she was subjected to "physical and psychological experiments." The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also changed its Twitter avatar to a picture of Butina.

There is no evidence that Butina has been mistreated in prison or that officials threatened to send her to Guantanamo.

Nevertheless, many observers note that her case has been sexualized because of her age and gender. Prosecutors originally claimed that Butina had offered sex in exchange for access to influential political circles, an accusation that they later walked back.

Meanwhile, much has been made of Butina's relationship with longtime Republican political operative Paul Erickson, a man almost twice her age. Butina's lawyer has argued that the relationship between the pair is authentic, and Erickson has allegedly visited Butina in jail since she was arrested. But some have claimed that Butina was using Erickson in order to advance her political project.

Even in Russia, television presenter Andrey Malakhov, a media personality who has posed in Speedos on a French beach with President Donald Trump's ex-wife Ivana, posited the theory that Butina had launched her influence operation with sex in mind.

"What if her aims were purely sexual?... Some people like to sleep with famous athletes and some with politicians. She went there and wanted to meet them, that's all," Malakhov said while interviewing Butina's father.

Butina's family members sat on a sofa looking morose throughout the interview, while Malakhov showed photographs of Butina and Erickson together.

Russia Says Maria Butina Is #MeToo Movement Victim, While Russian TV Asks If NRA Activist Infiltrated Republican Party for Sex | World