Maria Butina, the only Russian arrested and convicted in the three-year investigation of Moscow’s interference in US politics, on Tuesday called her conviction absurd and a “disgrace” for American justice.
Butina, a 30-year-old gun activist, spoke to Russian reporters by phone after she was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Friday.
“I did not expect such a severe punishment,” she said.
“This is absolutely absurd. This is a huge disgrace for the US justice system.”
Butina’s lawyer, Robert Driscoll, confirmed Butina’s participation in the news conference.
She had admitted one count of conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government without registering — a so-called “espionage-lite” charge the US has used before against alleged Russian spies.
US prosecutors said that although she worked openly and was not tied to any Russian intelligence agency, she was sending back reports to a high-level Russian official, Alexander Torshin, and posed a threat to the United States.
On Tuesday, Butina said fellow gun activist Torshin “was and remains a dear person to me” even though he had gone incommunicado once her troubles began.
“My parents have tried to reach him unsuccessfully,” she said. “He has not gotten in touch.”
The redhead also said her trial has saddled her family with a whopping debt of around 40 million rubles ($618,000)and she needed help in paying that money back.
“We need money very much,” she said, asking Russians for their help.
“I know that Russians are kind at heart. Please support your compatriot,” she said.
Her case played out against a backdrop of tension between Moscow and Washington over what US intelligence says was a concerted effort by Russian spies to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, using hacking and social media manipulation to help President Donald Trump to victory.
Special counsel Robert Mueller charged 25 Russians with conspiracy for those activities, but, with all of them believed to be in Russia, none have been arrested.
US prosecutors acknowledged that Butina had nothing to do with those cases but alleged that she was part of a “spot-and-assess” operation to identify potential recruits.
– ‘Love my country’ –
Butina said US officials working on the Mueller report had spoken to her for “all of five minutes”.
“I have nothing to do with this report,” she added.
She again denied she was a pro-Kremlin political activist, saying she was a gun campaigner and worked towards better US-Russian relations.
“I was in favour of improving ties between Russia and the United States. I love my country,” she said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin at the weekend slammed Butina’s jailing as “arbitrary”, adding that he did not understand why she had been incarcerated.
Butina said she had had to cooperate with US authorities or would have faced between 5 and 15 years in prison.
She was given credit for nine months already served and will be deported when she is released.
A gun rights campaigner who attended NRA events and invited top gun lobby officials to Russia, Butina lived as a graduate student in Washington with her boyfriend, a Republican and NRA activist.
Her activities brought her into contact with top Republicans, including Trump at a rally in 2015.
Butina said that while in prison she would work and read classic literature including Dostoyevsky.
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