Maria Butina, the Russian based red-headed gun advocate is likely to return to her own country after her Friday release from a Florida prison. She built a network of high-level Republican contacts before arrested for spying.
In the three-year investigation of Moscow’s interference in US politics, Butina is the only Russian arrested and convicted. She parlayed ties with the NRA firearms lobby into a network that brought her into contact with President Donald Trump before his 2016 election along with one of his sons.
She stated that she was trying to establish a relation between the United States and Russia, and registered in Washington university while living with Republican operative. She was accused of being engaged in espionage and got arrested in July 2018, though she had no link with Russia’s established spy agencies.
The 30-year-old Butina entered a plea deal on a charge that she acted as an illegal, unregistered foreign agent was sentenced to 18 months in prison and she had already served nearly half.
For interfering in the 2016 election, under a broader attack in the US, Moscow made the Siberian native a cause-celebre. Not only that, the foreign ministry posted a picture of her picture prominently in its social media accounts claiming to “Free Maria”.
A Washington public defender, her current lawyer did not reply to questions about her plans but he said in a filing this week that she will be back to Russia. Russian media reported that she was expected to be back within days.
However, this is not clear if she was an intelligence operative appointed to infiltrate US political circles, or just someone genuinely creating people-to-people channels of cooperation who fell, victim to a higher level of intrigue relating to Russian election interference.
While staying in jail, she told while a graduate student in politics at American University she had only sought to be 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.”
In 2013, Butina built a bridge to the US through ties between her very small Russian gun-rights group and the National Rifle Association. In 2016, while attending a Trump rally, Butina was singled out to ask the future president a question about US-Russia ties.
Her social media was full of pictures of her posing with various firearms, making her to US gun activists. She became the girlfriend of a mid-level Republican and NRA operative, Paul Erickson.