Maria Butina — a Russian woman who tried to infiltrate the National Rifle Association (NRA) in order to curry favor between the American firearms-rights group and similar Russian entities — has been sentenced to 18 months in prison, BBC News reports. Upon completing her sentence, she’ll almost certainly be deported back to Russia with little delay.
In a courtroom on Friday, the 30-year-old admitted that her decisions have cost her and her family dearly.
“I love [my parents] dearly, but I harmed them morally and financially. They are suffering from all of that. I destroyed my own life as well. I came to the United States not under any orders, but with hope, and now nothing remains but penitence.”
Butina was arrested in Washington on July 15, 2018. She was charged with acting in the United States as an agent of a foreign government — in this case, Russia. The criminal complaint against her stated that she had acted on the orders of a “high-level official within the Russian government” in order to develop relationships with certain organizations in the United States. Those organizations included the NRA, the Republican Party, and certain religious groups that advocate for conservative causes, as The New York Times reported in July of 2018. The purported goals pushed by Butina and her handler involved “steer[ing] high-level politicians toward Moscow’s objectives.”
BREAKING: Russian gun rights activist Maria Butina has been sentenced to 18 months in federal court in Washington for failing to register as a foreign agent, WaPo reports. https://t.co/yvQjXwN9oK— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) April 26, 2019
Some of the details of her activities read like a salacious spy novel. For example, she reportedly carried on a relationship with an unnamed Republican political operative twice her age — and allegedly called him her “boyfriend,” even though, privately, she disdained him.
She is also said to have attempted to get dirt on left-wing groups, such as when she pretended to be a journalism student and attempted to get an interview with an unnamed Washington civil rights group. Her goal was to find out the group’s cyber vulnerabilities, which she would then funnel back to her Russian handler — or handlers.
Unfortunately for Butina, the FBI had been watching her almost from the moment she arrived on an F-1 student visa, as The Washington Post reported in July of 2018. The agency monitored her movements and activities, as is common when individuals entering the country are suspected of being foreign agents. It remains unclear why the FBI suspected her immediately, however.
Addressing Butina at her sentencing, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan noted that she has a bright future ahead of her, as long as that future takes place somewhere other than the United States.
“You are a young woman, you are smart, you are hard working. I wish you the best luck.”
Though Butina’s narrative includes Russia and espionage, her case is not in any way connected to the alleged Russian influence and interference in the 2016 election that was probed by special counsel Robert Mueller.