Russia asks US to free woman held as spy on ‘false’ charges

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov  (pictured) has asked US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to quickly release Russia’s Maria Butina who has been arrested on fabricated charges, a ministry statement said on Saturday.

In his telephone talk, Lavrov told Pompeo that the US action against Butina after branding her as a Russian agent is unacceptable.

The move comes days after Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova described Butina’s July 15 arrest as a political move aimed to undermine the positive effects of the summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Donald Trump in Helsinki on July 16.

After the summit, Moscow hinted at some informal “agreements” reached between the two leaders to improve bilateral ties. Trump’s silence on the subject gave it some credibility.

Lavrov’s request for Buntina’s immediate release assumes significance in the light of this Russian narrative.

Russian Foreign Ministry’s statement said Lavrov and Pompeo also discussed Syria and ways to improve Russia-US ties on an equal and mutually beneficial basis.

Although Butina pleaded her innocence, she has been charged with conspiracy to act and acting as a foreign agent. If convicted, the recent American University graduate may face up to 15 years in jail.

On Thursday, the Russian foreign ministry started a #FreeMariaButina campaign by asking supporters to add a photo of Butina to their Twitter avatars.

Anatoly Antonov, the Russian ambassador to the US, said by arresting Butina and denying consular access to her, American authorities are trying to frustrate the 29-year-old woman and Russian officials.