Maria Butina faces imprisonment in the US

The US Justice Department detained the founder of the organization "The right to arms" for acting as an agent of influence in favor of Russia, which in America is illegal. The protégé of ex-senator Alexander Torshin now faces up to 10 years in prison.
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Who is Maria Butina

29-year-old Maria Butina was born in Barnaul, where she graduated with honors from high school with in-depth study of English. Then she graduated from the Altai State University with a degree in Political Science, she told Facebook. The Washington Post notes that in Russia Butina owned a furniture store. From 2008 to 2011 she was a member of the second membership of the Public Chamber of the Altai Territory, the agency's press center told Interfax-Siberia on Tuesday.

Before moving to America Butina worked as an assistant to ex-senator Alexander Torshin, who is now the deputy chairman of the Central Bank, Reuters reports. He and Butina could conduct a common business, the agency adds, citing other media. Torshin did not answer RBC's calls.

Since 2011, Butina is the founder and member of the public organization "The Right to Arms", advocating the softening of legislation in the field of carrying firearms. Torshin was also a member of this movement. "He [Torshin] is our honorary member and as a well-known politician provided support, but only informational, not monetary," Igor Shmelev, chairman of the organization's board, said in an interview with RBC. According to SPARK, the organization "The right to arms" was in April this year excluded from the unified state register of legal entities. Shmelev clarified that it continues to exist as a public organization.

According to the newspaper The Washington Post, since 2016 Butina lives in the US on a student visa. According to the publication, she recently received a master's degree from the American University (American University) with a degree in international relations. At the university, RBC did not respond to the request.

What is accused of Butina and what does she face?

The US Justice Ministry accuses Butina of "infiltration (penetration) of organizations that have influence on US policy, with the aim of promoting the interests of the Russian Federation," the statement said on the agency's website. Acting Butina together with a Russian official, whose name is not named in the materials of the US Justice Department. However, they indicate that he worked in the legislative branch, and then moved to a high position in the Russian Central Bank. As Reuters and The Washington Post write, it's about Alexander Torshin.

The Ministry of Justice cited as examples three episodes in which Butina appears. Names of people and names of organizations with which she worked, are not reported in the materials of the Ministry of Justice. March 14, 2016 Butina sent an e-mail to an American citizen to "develop relations with him to achieve their goals," the prosecution said. In August 2016, Butina entered the US on a student visa. She declared her intention to study in the District of Columbia and continued to be an agent of Russia's influence, indicated there. In September 2016, it follows from the charge, she wrote an e-mail to a US citizen, since she wanted to organize an event in which she could influence the views of American officials.

As noted by the Ministry of Justice, if on arrival in the US Butina was going to engage in lobbying, she first had to notify the Prosecutor General. The charges are brought under section 18, parts 951 and 371 of the US Code of Laws. Paragraph 371 describes "conspiracy to commit a crime or to deceive against the United States"). The maximum sentence is five years' imprisonment, and a fine may be imposed. Paragraph 951 concerns the work of "agents of foreign governments". It states that persons working in the United States under the control of foreign governments are required to notify the US Attorney General about their activities (the rule does not apply to diplomats). For violation of this requirement, the maximum penalty is ten years in prison or a fine (perhaps both). This article appeared after the adoption in 1938 of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

In the investigation of Butina's activities, the FBI took part, which received access to her correspondence and the contents of her phone. In the conclusion of the special agent of the FBI Kevin Helson, attached to the charge against Butina, she was charged with aiding in creating a secret channel of communication between the elites of the Republican Party and the Russian leadership. Allegedly during the period of training in one of the universities of Washington from 2015 to 2017 Butina led the Kremlin's agent of influence. It is indicated that she received instructions from a high-ranking Russian official whose name is not reported.

Special agent Helson in his detention also tells that Butina took part in the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington in 2016. With an unnamed Russian official, Butina allegedly discussed the possibility of organizing the participation of Russian President Vladimir Putin in the National Prayer Breakfast in 2017. Prayer breakfast is held in February in Washington, it is attended by several hundred people, they are usually represented by the President of the United States.

Who is connected Butina

In the US, Butina maintained contacts with several conservative political activists. According to the investigation, in 2015 the Russian woman established contact with a man who agreed to acquaint her with American influential politicians. In November 2015, Butina entered into correspondence with an American political activist and invited him to lobby for a softening of the policy towards Moscow in the Republican Party, which, in her opinion, was able to win elections in 2016. Butina also allegedly informed the interlocutor that for this purpose she would have to get a budget of $ 125,000. The latter provided her with a list of politicians she should meet. Subsequently, representatives of the American Rifle Association (NRA) and the organization "Right to Arms" held a series of meetings. According to Newsweek and other media, this activist is Paul Erickson, a former member of the NRA.

In November 2016, the Russian official and Butina, mentioned in the accusation, allegedly sought an opportunity to organize a solemn evening, at which influential American politicians would be present. It was planned to "establish a secret channel of communications," noted in the conclusion of the special agent Helson. Subsequently, Butina and her American interlocutors discussed the plan for establishing US-Russian contacts, which, she assured, was approved by the "Putin side", follows from the text of the prosecution.

What the Butina says

According to Butina's lawyer Robert Neal Driscoll, the charges of the investigation are excessive. "Maria Butina is not an agent of influence of the Russian Federation, she is a Russian citizen living in the United States on the basis of a student visa," the lawyer said, which he sent to RBC. He also said that several months ago, Butin "voluntarily shut down for eight hours, gave testimony to representatives of both parties in the special committee for intelligence of the Senate of the US Congress, and also provided them with thousands of documents." The lawyer also said that a search was carried out in Butina's apartment in Washington in April and that her arrest on Sunday was held without prior notice. Driscoll refused additional comments.

The Russian embassy in the United States said that they would defend the rights of the Russian woman.

How can the Russian authorities respond?

In Russia, Butina was sharply reacted to the detention. The US should stop the practice of prosecuting for not including foreign agents in the register, Mikhail Fedotov, chairman of the Human Rights Council under the Russian president, responded (quoted by Interfax). According to Andrei Klimov, head of the committee of the Federation Council commission for the protection of state sovereignty, Russia must respond to the detention in the US by introducing the responsibility of individuals for acting as foreign agents. "We still have liability only for legal entities, and even then it is material, not criminal," explained Senator RBC. Butina, in his opinion, did not deal with espionage: she is accused of "collecting some people who seem to have some influence in America, to solve some cases in favor of some Russian people." "This is not espionage, but in the US it is punishable for up to five years," Klimov said. "The essence of my proposals is that such activities should be punished at least as harshly as in America."

The US authorities use the law on espionage "with hypertrophied activity, to put it mildly, not very civilized," and especially their activity increased after the meeting of Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump in Helsinki on July 16, the senator said. He linked the detention of Butina with this meeting. "This lady was led for a long time, she was called, she gave evidence to the congress," he added. "They followed her, but they decided to delay her only now."

"The arrest of a Russian citizen, which occurred right after the summit, is a step taken by the Washington bureaucracy to send a signal to the US president - no secret agreements with Russia will get further progress, the bureaucracy will not allow them to materialize," says the president of the agency "Eurasian Strategies of MGIMO Consulting ", the program director of the Valdai Discussion Club Andrey Sushentsov. The expert notes that the powers of the American president are limited, he can not change the whole composition of career officials, who mostly continue to treat him negatively. Sushentsov draws attention to the fact that for successful lobbying of their interests in the US, Russian companies need to be legalized, lobbying activities must be conducted systematically, so that it is accepted at all levels of the American establishment, while Russian representatives are acting in a guerrilla and systematic effort.