A Washington DC court on Friday sentenced Maria Butina, above, a Russian gun-rights activist, to 18 months in jail for working as an unregistered agent to infiltrate US political groups for Kremlin.
The months Butina served in jail since her arrest in July last year will count towards her 18-month sentence, the court said, adding that she will be deported to Russia after serving her sentence.
Judge Tanya Chutkan said Butina did not register herself as a foreign agent as she wanted to establish contacts in DC. Her actions had the potential to pose a threat to national security.
Chutkan rejected the view of Butina’s lawyers that she was only trying to improve ties between Russia and the US.
She also observed that Butina’s case came up when special counsel Robert Mueller was inquiring Russia’s alleged meddling in 2016 election.
The Russia woman’s lawyer Robert Driscoll said Mueller would have mentioned her in his report if she had played any role in influencing the election.
Driscoll said his client was arrested and punished only because she was a Russian.
Another lawyer representing Butina, Alfred Carry, told the judge that mainstream media wrongly depicted her as a spy who offered sex in exchange for influence.
Her only mistake was that she did not register as an agent and she is full of remorse over the lapse, Carry said.
But according to US prosecutors, Butina gained access to the National Rifle Association and was passing information to a Russian official, Alexander Torshin, about Americans who could tilt policy decisions in Russia’s favour.
Both Butina and Torshin were life membership by NRA and a tip was arranged for some members to Moscow.
Torshin, top official of Russia’s central bank, was close to President Vladimir Putin, according to the prosecutors.
Russia has rubbished reports of having any connection with her.
Moscow believes Butina, who came to the US on a student visa, was wrongly arrested during Washington’s hunt for Russian agents amid the Trump campaign scandal.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said her conditions in jail were normally reserved for dangerous repeat offenders.