When Maria Butina was initially arrested in July of 2018 on charges of acting as a foreign government agent without registration, the case generated a media frenzy. The idea of a Russian woman attempting to use her connections and relationships as a method of influencing the government seemed straight out of a spy thriller. However, as her trial has progressed, people are learning many surprising facts about Butina’s activities. With a sentencing date of April 26 finally scheduled, it seems that this saga is coming to a close.
According to information from the trial, Butina has been in the United States since 2011 following a Kremlin Agenda. Her earliest activities seem to be traveling back and forth between the U.S. and Russia to attend National Rifle Association Meetings. Butina attended many events tied to conservative American politics, alternately representing herself as a student, a journalist, and a Russian central bank staffer. At one point, she was dating Paul Erickson, a Republican operative recently indicted for money laundering and wire fraud.
Charges against Butina were filed as part of Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Russian influence on the presidential election of 2016. This investigation highlighted a lot of ties between Butina, the Kremlin, and the Republican party. Following her arrest, Butina began working with the prosecution. She pled guilty and began providing information about her past activities in the following months.
Butina’s cooperation has led to some of the charges being dropped. However, she is still facing charges of acting as an illegal foreign agent. This charge may result in a sentence of up to five years in prison. Initially, Butina was supposed to be sentenced in February, but prosecutors moved to delay her sentencing because she was still providing them with information. The fact that the sentencing has been finally scheduled indicates that they may have learned everything they feel they can from Butina.
Throughout this case, the Russian government has remained steadfast in its claims that Butina was simply a harmless Russian woman who moved to the United States for school. President Putin and several Foreign Ministry agents have denied working with Butina at all. Despite these claims, United States intelligence officials and federal prosecutors maintain that Butina was working with Russian intelligence agencies to strengthen ties between Russia and conservative politicians.