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The Case of Maria Butina

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — Russian citizen Maria Butina was born in Barnaul in the Altai Territory in 1988. In 2005, she graduated with a medal from the 22nd school of Barnaul with in-depth study of foreign languages.

In 2010, she completed her education at Altai State University, and without leaving her university, she also graduated from the local School of Real Politics. She worked in various fields: from marketing to politics, from 2011 to March 2018, she was the chairman of the board of the right to arms, an interregional public organization.

Since the summer of 2016, Maria Butina studied at the American University in Washington , where she graduated in May 2018 with a master’s degree in humanities in international relations. In the United States, she entered on a student visa.

July 15, 2018 Russian Maria Butina was arrested in Washington, she was charged with participation in a conspiracy to conduct activities in favor of the Russian government in the United States.

In addition, US intelligence agencies claim that the Russian woman conducted such activities without being a foreign agent registered with the US Department of Justice.

According to the indictment, from 2015 and at least until February 2017, Butina worked “by order of a senior official of the Russian government, who was previously a deputy of the Russian parliament, then became a senior representative in the Central Bank of the Russian Federation” and is under sanctions of the US Treasury.

According to the US Department of Justice, Butina wanted to “use personal ties with individuals in the United States that influence American politics,” “establish informal contacts” and “infiltrate organizations operating in US politics” to advance the interests of the Russian Federation.

As evidence, information was provided that Butina spoke with an unnamed person in the Russian government on the Internet, and also established contacts with an unnamed US citizen who would then introduce her to influential people in America.

Butina pleaded not guilty in court. The Russian woman’s lawyer said that she didn’t do anything illegal, and her connections in the United States are fully explained by her studies at a local university. According to the lawyer, the Russian woman has permission to work in the United States, she was looking for employment options to put her education into practice.

In court documents, lawyers called Butina a naive student who told friends about the need to improve relations between Russia and the United States, but was completely not going to promote this idea in a hidden way on behalf of Russian officials.

According to the lawyer, the FBI has been following Maria Butina for a long time after speculating in the American media, whose attention was drawn to her in 2017.

The media claimed that on behalf of Central Bank Deputy Chairman Alexander Torshin, she was in the process of establishing ties in the United States, and attributed this to the case of “Russian interference” in the US election, which Moscow denies.

The lawyer said that Butina was actually charged with the fact that for several years she talked with American citizens, discussed with them the politics and relations of the two countries, even that the Russian woman was photographed at the Capitol on the day of the inauguration of the US President in January 2017.

The court refused to release the Russian woman during the trial, citing the “risk of escape”.

Butina was kept in a Washington prison until August 17, then she was transferred to a prison in the city of Alexandria (near the capital). The Russian woman was escorted into shackles , while taking all her things, including books, towels, sneakers, and hygiene items.

Butina spent several months in solitary confinement with a ban on any communication and the ability to go out only for a couple of hours at night. Even contacting the family by telephone was not immediately possible. She was not taken to fresh air. Authorities attributed this to concern for her safety.

On September 22, thanks to the efforts of diplomats and lawyers, Butina ended the period of the so-called “administrative segregation” (isolation), usually applied to seasoned criminals. She was transferred to the general regime, allowed to go outside the cell more often, to attend rehabilitation, to walk, to talk with other prisoners. But on November 21, Maria Butina was re-placed in solitary confinement, which was a steel cage the size of a parking space for a car, only because she shared the phone number of her lawyer with a cellmate.

At the same time, Butina did not impose any disciplinary sanctions on Butina.

In the solitary confinement of the American prison, where she was until the end of December, the heating was not even turned on. The Russian woman was again not allowed to leave the cell for 22 hours a day, in addition, they did not provide the necessary medical care. Butina’s condition worsened, she began attacks of claustrophobia.

Only at the beginning of January 2019 it became known that the Russian woman was transferred to a general detention regime in an American prison. In total, she spent in complete isolation for more than three months.

Butina’s trial took place in the US capital.

In early December 2018, the prosecution and the defense of the Russian woman said that they were considering the option of concluding a deal.

Then, the American television channel NBC, referring to the draft agreement with the investigation, which should be approved by the court, said that Butina was ready to plead guilty to the charges in order to avoid a long prison term. Butina’s defense was banned by the court from talking to the press, and prosecutors also did not contact the media.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said that Moscow would support any decision by Maria Butina that she would accept for her release in the United States.

At a court session on December 13, 2018, Butina pleaded guilty to one of the charges. She confirmed that she had been involved in a conspiracy from early 2015 to early 2018 to harm the United States.

The prosecution withdrew another charge on suspicion of working as a foreign agent. Having made a deal with the investigation, the Russian woman refused a full trial with a jury.

The Russian Foreign Ministry believes that Butina was forced to sign under absurd charges, creating unbearable conditions of detention.

Initially, Maria Butina, in the aggregate of the charges brought, was facing up to 15 years in prison. The deal with the court meant that she could be convicted for a maximum of five years in prison, and in reality the term could possibly be much less.

At the end of March 2019, it became known that the defense and the prosecution filed a joint petition with the court , in which they proposed to deport Butina on the day of the verdict. The Russian woman herself agreed with this in a separate attached statement.

On April 19, 2019, the U.S. prosecutor recommended sentencing Maria Butina to one and a half years in prison.

The defense of the Russian woman asked the court to exclude from the case file the expert assessment of the former FBI employee Robert Anderson, according to which her actions in the USA were taken “on behalf of the Russian authorities.”

On April 26, 2019, a court in Washington sentenced Maria Butina for “conspiring to work illegally as a foreign agent” to 18 months in prison , of which nine of her had already been imprisoned . The Russian woman appealed the verdict.

After the verdict was announced, Butina was temporarily transferred to a prison in the US state of Oklahoma. In May, she was sent to serve her sentence in a prison in Tallahassee , Florida, where the Russians had the opportunity to communicate via the Internet, including via video.

In this prison, she went in for sports when it was allowed by the regime, and also began to teach mathematics, English, probability theory and social studies for other women serving a prison term with her. These classes were conducted with the permission of the prison administration.

According to the girl’s father, Maria Butina lost almost 20 kilograms of weight while in an American prison.

In early July 2019, with an increase of 170 centimeters, she weighed a little more than 40 kilograms.

According to the open database of the US Federal Bureau of Prisons, Butina’s preliminary deadline is November 5, 2019 , but as Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the State Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said in June, the deadline was reduced by 10 days and it could be released on October 25.

The case of Maria Butina caused a public outcry in Russia. In Moscow, the Russians called the accusations far-fetched.

According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, there are no grounds for accusations against her, since she did not carry out any tasks in the interests of Russia . According to the representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, the FBI, instead of combating crime, is fulfilling an explicit political order.

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