Maria Butina: Russian agent sentenced to 18 months in prison

Maria Butina addressed the judge directly at her hearing on 26 April
Maria Butina addressed the judge directly at her hearing on 26 April

A Russian agent who tried to infiltrate US political groups has been sentenced to 18 months in prison, telling the court: “I destroyed my own life.”

Maria Butina tried to insinuate herself into the National Rifle Association (NRA) in an effort to sway American policies in favour of Moscow.

After pleading not guilty, she later reversed her position, admitting to a single count of conspiracy in December.

The 30-year-old has been in custody since July.

She will face deportation immediately after her sentence is served.

Maria Butina
Maria Butina has been sentenced after pleading guilty to helping the Russian government attempt to US policy

Butina told the court: “My parents discovered my arrest on the morning news they watch in their rural house in a Siberian village.

“I love them 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.”

Despite prosecutor’s claims that she damaged US national security, Butina said that she had no intention of harming the American people.

Her sentencing came on the same day that US President Donald Trump travelled to speak at the NRA convention in Indianapolis.

In court on Friday, US District Judge Tanya Chutkan said she had received and reviewed two dozen character letters for Butina.

But the judge was reportedly unmoved by Butina’s apology, saying that her actions “jeopardised our country’s national security”, US media said.

“This was no simple misunderstanding by a overeager foreign student,” Judge Chutkan said.

At the end of the hearing, Judge Chutkan wished Butina well.

“You are a young woman, you are smart, you are hard working.” Judge Chutkan said to Butina, “I wish you the best luck.”

Federal prosecutor Erik Kenserson described Butina as an agent of a foreign government with “undoubtedly serious” intentions, though stopped short of calling her activities espionage.

“While it is certainly true that the defendant was an American university student,” Mr Kenerson said, “She did this for the benefit of the Russian Federation.”

As part of a plea deal, Butina had agreed to co-operate with investigators. Judge Chutkan noted on Friday that Butina had provided “substantial assistance” to law enforcement.

Prosecutors said they expected the deal would provide information about Russia’s efforts to interfere in US politics.

Prosecutors said Butina was directed by a senior Russian official to infiltrate conservative political groups, including an unnamed pro-gun lobbying organisation presumed to be the NRA, which is allied with Mr Trump’s Republican party.

Maria Butina
Butina tried to infiltrate the National Rifle Association (NRA) in an effort to influence US policies

The case has no connection with the Mueller inquiry into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

In a statement read in court, one of the prosecutors said Butina had drafted, in March 2015, a document called “Diplomacy Project” that called for unofficial communication lines between high-ranking US officials and Russia.

She acknowledged that she worked with two Americans and a Russian official.

The Russian government has previously described the case as “fabricated”.