Russian spy jailed for trying to infiltrate US gun group

Russian spy Maria Butina has been jailed in the US after admitting she tried to infiltrate the National Rifle Association (NRA).

The 30-year-old, who also pleaded guilty to trying to influence Republican politicians and relaying intelligence back to a government official in her homeland, was handed an 18 month sentence.

It includes the nine months the pro-gun activist has already served since her arrest in July last year, having managed to enter the US on a student visa.

One Russian official asked if her fans were asking for her autograph. Pic: Facebook
Image: The pro-gun activist pleaded guilty to the charges against her after reaching a plea deal. Pic: Facebook

The justice department alleged that her work as a Kremlin operative took place from “as early as 2015 and continuing through at least February 2017”, although her lawyer originally claimed she was merely a student who was interested in relations between the US and Russia.

She later pleaded guilty as part of a deal reached with prosecutors after she indicated her willingness to co-operate with them, and will be deported back to Russia at the end of her sentence.

Maria Butina allegedly traded sex for a position within a special interest organisation. Pic: Facebook
Image: Butina was accused of working as a Kremlin agent in the US from early 2015 to February 2017. Pic: Facebook

Judge Tanya Chutkan said the sentence reflected the seriousness of the offence and would deter others from committing similar crimes, which Butina said she was “ashamed and embarrassed” by.

The former American University graduate told the court she was “deeply sorry” for her actions, adding: “I have three degrees, but now I am a convicted felon with no job, no money.”

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Maria Butina has been charged with infiltrating US political organisations
Image: The 30-year-old is a former graduate of the American University in Washington DC

Prior to her sentencing hearing, prosecutors had said she was helped in her work by the Russian official she was feeding information back to, as well as two US citizens.

Her lawyers named the former as Alexander Torshin, deputy governor of the central Russian bank, and prosecutors named one of the Americans as conservative activist Paul Erickson, who was dating Butina.

Maria Butina with envoy Alexander Torshin
Image: Butina with Russian envoy Alexander Torshin

The long-term aim of her work in the US was said to be a bid to sway policy in Washington towards Russia, but Moscow dismissed the case against her as “fabricated”.

When it became clear she was to enter a guilty plea, Russian President Vladimir Putin said: “I asked all the heads of our intelligence services what is going on – nobody knows anything about her.”

Butina was the first Russian to be convicted of attempting to influence US policy in a time period that included the 2016 presidential campaign of Donald Trump, but the case was not related to the investigation led by Robert Mueller into the extent of Russian interference in the election.

The report ended up finding no evidence of collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

Source: SKY NEWS

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