Russian Woman Arrested in Washington DC for ‘allegedly’ working as a spy for Russia

File Photo/CNN

In light of recent events pertaining to the Trump-Putin conference in Finland, tensions are already sky-rocketing when it comes to Russia’s alleged meddling in American affairs. The recent arrest of a Russian woman in Washington DC, however, takes this hostility to a whole new level.

Maria Butina, a 29-year-old Russian woman studying in the United States was arrested on Monday, the same day that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin met in Helsinki for their famous conference where Mr Trump caused an outrage by declaring his trust on Russia as well as Mr Putin for not being involved in the apparent rigging of the Presidential election of 2016. Ms.Butina was charged with conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian government while developing ties with American citizens as well as infiltrating political groups in the United States. The Justice Department said that she was accused of operating at the direction of a high-level official who worked for the Russian Central Bank and was recently sanctioned by the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. The court records, however, did not reveal the identity of said official. This investigation was overseen by the Justice Department’s National Security Division and the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.Ms. Butina allegedly arranged dinners in Washington and New York City and tried to develop relationships with American politicians to establish “back channel” lines of communication to “penetrate the US national decision-making apparatus,” the complaint said. The complaint, however, did not specifically mention Mr Trump’s campaign.

Ms Butina has a number of photographs on her Facebook page with Alexander Torshin, who is the deputy head of Russia’s Central Bank which was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department in April. A person who was familiar with the matter told Thomson Reuters of NDTV that she worked for him as an assistant. Other media reported on a business relationship between Ms Butina and Torshin. She was accused by the Justice Department of working with said Russian official and two unnamed US citizens to infiltrate a pro-gun rights organization and influence American politics. The Justice Department’s complaint also referenced an email written by Ms.Butina in March 2015 which discussed the prospect of a major political party winning the 2016 election which was “traditionally associated with negative and aggressive foreign policy” toward Russia. She went on to say in the email that they should build a relationship with a major gun rights organization that is the “largest sponsor of the elections to the US Congress” and a sponsor of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in order to improve US-Russia relations. Her Facebook page features photos with American politicians and other prominent figures including Wisconsin Governor and former Presidential candidate Scott Walker and David Keene, the former president of the National Rifle Association (NRA), among others.

The Democrats on the US House Intelligence Committee who were investigating any ties between Mr Trump’s campaign and Russia had drawn attention to Ms Butina as a person of interest and asked for permission from the committee’s Republican leadership to bring her in for questioning. Robert Driscoll, Ms Butina’s lawyer strongly denied these claims saying she was not a Russian agent. He also said she was cooperating with US authorities and had previously appeared voluntarily behind closed doors for eight hours before the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Quote, ” Ms Butina intends to defend her rights vigorously and looks forward to clearing her name.”

Ms Butina is set to appear in court today pending a hearing. If the charges against her are proven, she will risk being sentenced for 5 years.



*Neha Hardikar is a Research Intern at The Kootneeti

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