Suspected Russian agent arrested in Washington
By Juliette Cohen
A suspected Russian agent was arrested in Washington D.C. on Sunday. Maria Butina is the 26th Russian who has been accused of interference in the US presidential election, but the first who has been arrested. The 29-year-old is accused of scheming to infiltrate American organizations and corporations to promote Russian views since 2013. Butina only entered the US in 2016 under a student visa while she was completing her masters work at American University. Butina claims she has spent her time in the US to learn more about US gun rights and that she runs a gun rights organization in Russia.
According to documents from the Justice Department, Butina has spent two years forming ties with organizations such as the NRA, National Prayer breakfast, and religious organizations to foster back channel communication with the Kremlin. According to court documents Butina was able to set up and influence American politicians and corporate leaders along with the help of her mentor, Alexander Torshin. Torshin, who has been sanctioned by the US regarding his links to the Kremlin and NRA and Russia’s involvement in the election, is the Deputy Governor of the Russian Central Bank.
Emails and court documents prove that besides setting up ties, Butina made an unnamed, key political contact in the US who helped her identify and target key political, news media, and business officials. This official, among others, tried to help Butina in her efforts to broker a meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. She attempted to set this meeting up twice: first at an NRA event in Louisville, Kentucky, where Jared Kushner denied the request, and the second is unidentified.
Maria Butina has been monitored by the US government for years, but she did not appear in court until Monday. Her lawyer claimed that “ Maria Butina is not an agent of the Russian Federation.” The judge has agreed to seal the case so that Maria Butina cannot flee or destroy documents. Furthermore, the case may be bigger than it appears. The court’s investigation has led them to other potential Russian operatives.
While this case is separate from the special counsel investigation of Russian interference, it is a puzzle piece in the mystery of Russian involvement in US affairs.