The 30-year-old Russian has served an 18-month prison sentence in Florida for trying to infiltrate American political circles.
"The Russians do not surrender! "exclaimed Maria Butina when she arrived in Moscow on Saturday (October 26th). The 30-year-old "agent" landed around noon in the Russian capital from Miami, Florida. The day before, she had been released from Tallahassee Prison, the state's administrative capital, where she was jailed for nearly eighteen months for trying to infiltrate American political circles.
"I am very happy to go home. I am very grateful to all those who supported me, to the Russian citizens who helped me and wrote letters », she said upon arrival at the airport. "Thank you very much to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the diplomats who fought for me every day"she added, her arms laden with flowers and escorted by her father and the spokesperson of the Russian diplomacy, Maria Zakharova, who came to greet him.
A recording defect
Arrested in July 2018, Maria Butina is the only Russian citizen to have been convicted in cases of interference in US domestic politics, although her role appears to have been limited. She had established ties with the National Rifle Association (NRA), the powerful US gun lobby and very close to the Republican Party. His contacts with the NRA allowed him to approach Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.
She had been sentenced to 18 months in prison in April, almost half of whom had already been served. Accused of "Plot" in order to "Promote the interests of Russia"she was ultimately found guilty only of a failure to register as a foreign agent, a requirement of US law. No link has been established either by justice with the Russian intelligence agencies. But prosecutors said she had regular contacts with the Russian embassy and officials in charge of intelligence services.
Maria Butina has always claimed her innocence and said that she had sought to create personal ties between her country and the United States, where she was studying at the American University in Washington. At the time of his conviction, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had lashed out at accusations "Made from scratch", qualifying Maria Butina "Victim of a tough confrontation between various political forces in the United States and a frenzied anti-Russian campaign in the spirit of McCarthyism".
The case of Paul Whelan
Russian state-funded TV station RT broadcast images of her in a minibus on Saturday, where she denounces "The horror in which (she has) rediscovered ". "Absolutely everyone hated me", she said, adding that she watched in prison programs that showed "The ugliest pictures of me". "It was very hard"she added.
The procedure that has led Maria Butina to prison is distinct from the investigations carried out by the special prosecutor Robert Mueller on charges of Moscow interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. In this investigation, Robert Mueller pronounced nearly 30 indictments against Russian individuals or entities. But all these people live in Russia and are out of reach of American justice.
The release of Maria Butina has aroused speculation about the acceleration of Paul Whelan, an American arrested in December 2018 in Russia, where he is accused of espionage. His brother David Whelan, however, told Agence France-Presse this week that Moscow could ask for a much larger counterpart in order to release him.