For months, the controversy regarding Russia and the 2016 Presidential Election dominated the diplomatic headlines. The most recent controversy regarding these two nations is no different. On Wednesday, a Russian woman by the name of Maria Butina captured the headlines. According to the Justice Department of the United States, she attempted to offer sex in exchange for a position within the organization which she targeted. As a result, a federal magistrate judge ordered that she be charged with being a Russian agent and she has since been jailed. The Russian graduate student and gun rights activist appears to have ties to Russian intelligence. In addition, prosecutors have jailed Maria ahead of the trial as she is currently considered a huge flight risk. The judge also ordered that she be jailed without bond pending trial as there were no release conditions that the judge believed would keep the Russian from fleeing.
The charges themselves stem from discovers made back in March of 2017. At that time, FBI agents discovered messages sent between Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin, a Russian government official who has been deemed as Butina’s main point of contact. In addition to the messages, FBI surveillance also spotted her with a Russian diplomat who the FBI believes is in fact an intelligence officer. Butina is believed to have ties to wealthy businessmen in the Russian oligarchy as well. Further back, in January 2017, Butina sent a photo of herself at the US Capitol on Inauguration Day to Torshin. In response, Torshin replied “You’re a daredevil girl! What can I say!”. Since that time, Torshin has been placed under travel ban and has not been to the United States since.
Authorities allege the controversy began even before then, almost a decade ago in some cases. At this time, she was only a struggling gun enthusiast looking to push her cause. She twice applied to attend the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) annual meeting, but she was twice denied. Then, in 2013, the NRA came to Moscow to meet with her gun rights group. With the contacts she made from those meetings, she began to infiltrate American politics. From there, Butina was headed to the US with a student visa in her hand. Officials believe she began to draw up this cover story years before and eventually it came to fruition when she attended American University in Washington DC on that student visa.
During Wednesday’s arraignment, Butina pleaded not guilty to the charges filed against her. During the arraignment, Butina did not speak, but rather came into the courtroom unshackled and wearing an orange prison uniform, despite the effort from her lawyers to allow her to wear civilian clothes. Her lawyer, Robin Driscoll, is confident that Maria is innocent of the charges cited against her and will be pushing hard to help the young student attempting to succeed in America to push past these charges.
Butina officially made her first court appearance on Wednesday, July 16thfollowing her arrest. Until her next court hearing, she will be retained. She is due back in court on July 24thfor a status hearing.