Moscow, July 27 (IANS) A high-ranking Russian Foreign Ministry official on Thursday claimed that a woman who had been arrested in the US for allegedly spying on behalf of the Kremlin was a political prisoner.
Artyom Kozhin, the Ministry’s Deputy Information Director, said that the arrest of Maria Butina, who was detained on charges of conspiracy against the US and acting as an unregistered foreign agent, was arbitrary and politically motivated, Efe reported.
“We demand that the US put an end to arbitrarity and release Maria Butina, whose arrest was solely motivated by the motives of the US’ domestic and foreign policy, therefore making her a political prisoner,” Kozhin said during a Moscow.
The diplomat added that Butina had been imprisoned on trumped-up charges just because of her country of origin.
“What is this if not a witch hunt?” the Ministry official rhetorically asked, adding that Russia had formally complained to the US about her treatment and the “strong psychological pressure” she had allegedly been subjected to during the eight-hour search of her residence.
Butina, 29, could face a sentence of between 10 and 20 years in prison if found guilty of conspiring against the US and unlawfully acting as an agent for a foreign nation.
She was arrested on July 15 in Washington, after an affidavit in support of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s criminal complaint accused her of infiltrating organizations such as the National Rifle Association, the National Prayer Breakfast and multiple conservative and religious groups with the purpose of advancing Russian interests.
While in the US on a student visa, Butina also allegedly spun a network of contacts linked to the campaign of US President Donald Trump, whom she coincided with at the right-wing libertarian FreedomFest conference in the summer of 2015.
After Trump gave a speech at the event, she asked a question from the audience about ending sanctions on Russia, to which the then-candidate replied: “I don’t think you’d need the sanctions.”
She pleaded not guilty on July 18, after which a District Court judge ordered her imprisoned until her pending trial.