Convicted Russian 'agent' Maria Butina appeals prison sentence
WASHINGTON, USA – Maria Butina, the only Russian arrested and convicted in the three-year investigation of Moscow's interference in US politics, filed an appeal Wednesday, May 15, against her 18-month prison sentence.
The 30-year-old Russian gun activist, who built a network of high-powered Republican contacts in what she called a quest to establish better relations between the two countries, was stunned in April when a Washington court handed down the stiff sentence instead of expelling her from the country as expected.
Butina pleaded guilty in December to acting as an agent of a foreign government without registering – a so-called "espionage-lite" charge the US has used against alleged Russian spies.
Prosecutors say that although she was not an employee of any of Moscow's spy services, she knowingly took part in an operation to "spot and assess" potential US espionage targets.
From 2013 to 2017, she parlayed her ties to the powerful US NRA gun lobby and a personal relationship with a Republican and NRA operative to develop high-level contacts in the Republican Party, coming into contact with President Donald Trump before he was elected as well as with one of Trump's sons.
She said she was only in the United States to attend graduate school and to help strengthen US-Russia relations, and told Russian reporters after her sentencing hearing last month that her punishment was "absurd."
"I did not expect such a severe punishment," she said.
"This is absolutely absurd. This is a huge disgrace for the US justice system."
In an interview from jail with the US NPR radio network last week, she said she had been involved in "civil diplomacy."
"I never hide my love to my motherland neither to this country... I love both countries, and I was building peace." – Rappler.com