A new report suggests accused Russian spy Maria Butina is not a spy at all, but merely a Russian woman with no official affiliation to her government who tried to improve United States-Russia relations.
James Bamford interviewed Butina numerous times for The New Republic last year about her saga, which began in 2011 when she started a Russian gun rights group called Right to Bear Arms. She made several trips to the U.S. in subsequent years, met with American politicians, and mingled with the NRA in her effort to unofficially help the two counties become better friends.
Butina enrolled at American University and graduated last year with a master’s degree in international affairs.
The FBI, however, saw her actions in a more nefarious light. Her Washington, D.C. apartment was searched in April 2018, but agents did not find any spy gear. Butina, now age 30, also gave thousands of documents and electronic messages to the Senate Intelligence Committee that same month.
She was preparing to travel to South Dakota with her boyfriend Paul Erickson, a Republican activist, to start her new job as a cryptocurrency industry consultant July 15, 2018 when the FBI showed up at her apartment and arrested her. She was accused of working as an undercover Russian agent with the help of 65-year-old Alexander Torshin, deputy governor of the Central Bank of Russia.
Butina ultimately pleaded guilty to conspiracy to act as an illegal foreign agent in November and is awaiting sentencing in the Alexandria Detention Center, just outside the nation’s capital.
Butina, according to Bamford, is petrified of solitary confinement — conditions in which she was held for nearly 100 days as prosecutors tried to convince her to plead guilty. She flatly denied being a spy and Bamford presented evidence to support that claim, including details about the relationships she forged in the U.S.
“Look, I imagined I could be in prison in Russia. I could never imagine I could go to jail in the United States. Because of politics?” Butina said after she was arrested.
“I didn’t know it became a crime to have good relations with Russia — now it’s a crime. They hate me in Russia, because they think I’m an American spy. And here they think I’m a Russian spy. If I’m a spy, I’m the worst spy you could imagine.”
The FBI, according to Bamford, strived to find evidence of Butina using sex as a weapon to gain access to influential Americans. Allegations saying as much were dropped in September.