Woman arrested, charged with acting as Russian agent in US

  • Maria Butina was arrested on a charge of conspiring to infiltrate American political organizations at the direction of a senior Kremlin official who was not named but identified by title as Alexander Torshin.
  • Torshin is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and both he and Butina are lifetime members of the National Rifle Association.

Federal authorities have arrested a Russian woman accused of conspiring to infiltrate American political organizations, including a gun-rights group, at the direction of a senior Kremlin official.

That’s according to court papers unsealed Monday in Washington. Maria Butina was arrested Sunday on a charge of conspiracy to act as an unregistered agent of the Russian government.

Court papers say Butina sought to influence senior U.S. politicians and develop relationships with political organizations, most notably a “gun rights organization” widely assumed to be the National Rifle Association, between 2015 and 2017.

Butina’s lawyer, Robert Driscoll, said in a statement Monday that Butina “is not an agent of the Russian Federation,” and said she was simply a “foreign student” who was “networking.” Butina entered the United States on a student visa, according to the indictment.

The indictment, however, alleges that Butina was, in fact, an agent of the Russian Federation who took her orders from the Kremlin, and whose real goal was to further Russia’s strategic agenda by establishing “unofficial lines of communications with U.S. politicians and political organizations.”

An affidavit by FBI Special Agent Kevin Helson, which was released along with the charges, described Butina as the deputy to a more senior Russian official, who is not named in the affidavit but is identifiable by his titles as Alexander Torshin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

According to the indictment, Butina “would communicate via email, Twitter direct message, and other means with” Torshin and others “to send reports, seek direction, and receive orders in furtherance of the conspiracy.”

Butina was arrested on Sunday and is being held in custody pending a July 18th hearing in federal court in the District of Columbia.

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