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Thursday, December 2, 2021

After 15 months in US prisons, she now sits in the Russian parliament

MOSCOW. When the lower house of the Russian parliament, or Duma, met for the first time last month after the September elections, the name of one of its new members was more familiar in the United States than in her home country.

Maria V. Butina made headlines across America when she was convicted three years ago of acting as an unregistered foreign agent trying to infiltrate influential conservative political circles before and after the 2016 elections.

She is now focused on playing a prominent role in the political system of Russia – this time through legal means and with the support of President Vladimir Putin’s party, United Russia.

Ms Butina, 33, who returned to Russia in October 2019 after 15 months in several US prisons, including four months in solitary confinement, now represents the impoverished Kirov region in the Duma.

Her critics have described her rapid political rise as gratitude to the Kremlin, but she rejects this claim.

“This is not an award,” Ms Butina said in an interview in a cafe in central Moscow, not far from where she lives. “I was not a spy. I didn’t work for the government. I was just a civilian. “

But in December 2018, Ms Butina pleaded guilty to conspiracy led by a Russian official to “establish unofficial channels of communication” with high-level Republicans on behalf of the Russian government between 2015 and 2017.

Prosecutors said she tried to arrange a meeting between then-candidate Donald Trump and Mr. Putin during the 2016 presidential campaign, and a judge at the sentencing hearing noted that she sent political reports to Russia at the same time as Russian intelligence operatives. tried to influence the elections.

Back home, Ms Butina used her experiences with Washington insiders – and her time in prison – to act as an expert on both America and the penitentiary system.

This became apparent in April when she ambushed Russia’s most famous political prisoner, opposition politician Alexei Navalny, who unexpectedly visited the penal colony where he is being held and which is known for its ill-treatment.

Accessing through a civilian surveillance program, Ms Butina positively compared Mr Navalny’s conditions to the US prisons where she served her sentence.

In a widely watched video broadcast by the state-run television company Russia-24, she said she was impressed with the facility’s food and medical services. She then met with Mr. Navalny, who went on a 24-day hunger strike for one week at the time of her visit because he was denied medical attention due to severe pain in his back and right leg.

“You can walk normally,” Ms Butina tells Mr. Navalny, who refused to agree to be filmed.

Mr. Navalny repeated to her that he was being denied access to a doctor and left.

“I am not judging Navalny. I said what I saw in that video, ”Ms Butina said in her interview.

Maria Pevchikh, head of the investigation department of Mr. Navalny’s organization, the Anti-Corruption Foundation, said she believed Ms. Butina’s place in the Duma was a gift not for her activities in the United States, but for her persecution of Mr. Navalny. … He embarrassed Mr Putin by exposing a government plot to assassinate him and exposing the luxurious nature of the Black Sea palace, which is believed to have been built specifically for the Russian president.

“Anyway, it was a reward for what she did, visiting Navalny in prison, and for that TV episode, which was very embarrassing and disgusting,” said Ms Pevchikh. “Not many people will agree to this. And she did it. “

In the United States, Ms. Butina’s case was interpreted as the plot of a Cold War thriller, and her personal life, including her relationship with Republican operative Paul Erickson, whom she met in Russia in 2013 and who will later be convicted. Financial Crimes and Mr Trump’s Pardon – Was detailed on Cable News.

However, in Russia, pro-government media presented her story as a miscarriage of justice. Ms Butina was seen as a scapegoat for the Democrats’ failure to cope with Mr Trump’s victory. The Russian Foreign Ministry said this was an example of America’s rampant “Russophobia”.

Over a caviar lunch at a restaurant serving dishes from her native Siberia, Ms Butina insisted that she would like to use her new status as national legislator to improve relations between Washington and Moscow.

“I believed in friendship between the two peoples and I still believe in it,” said Ms Butina. “We can be friends, we should be.”

However, in her frequent appearances on television and on social media, she openly criticized America, especially when it comes to foreign interference and race relations.

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“She’s not a bad trophy” for the ruling party, said Ms Singers. “I’m just talking non-stop about how bad America is.”

Ahead of the recent Duma elections, she posted a post about US interference in elections abroad during the Cold War on Telegram, a social media platform. “Their logic is that the United States can interfere in elections in other countries, but Russia cannot,” she wrote.

Ms Butina, who worked for the government-backed TV channel RT before joining the Duma, frequently comments on systemic racism in America, as pro-Kremlin figures have done for decades.

In October 2020, Ms Butina published her memoir Prison Diaries, in which discusses how her imprisonment influenced her political views.

While her time in prison did not make her a supporter of gun rights – she said the loss of her lifelong NRA membership was particularly offensive – it diminished her sympathy for the GOP, she said as she learned firsthand about structural inequality. America.

Much of the book focuses on her experiences with black prisoners, and she said that her time in prison shattered many of the stereotypes she once held and showed her how racist the views of many of those American influencers with whom she was close.

Ms Butina wants to use her new Duma platform to help Russians imprisoned abroad, stating that she really wanted to campaign against solitary confinement and torture. But when asked about the recent leak from a cache of graphic videos that allegedly show torture and rape in Russian prisons, Ms Butina did not dare to comment, saying that they needed to be checked.

Among the Russian figures she has publicly endorsed is convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, known as the “Death Merchant.”

Ms Butina, who earned her MA in International Relations with a focus on cybersecurity from American University in Washington during her time in the United States, remains very active on social media. This was the case in the United States as well, before she caught the attention of FBI investigators with her photographs of notable Republicans such as Donald Trump Jr., Rick Santorum and Scott Walker, as well as NRA leader Wayne Lapierre.

Her connection with Russian government officials dates back to before she was in the Duma and in the United States. She came to Moscow from her Siberian hometown of Barnaul in 2011 and was hired shortly thereafter as a special assistant by Russian Senator Alexander Torshin, an influential United Russia member who later became deputy chairman of the Central Bank of Russia.

However, she is a little-known person in Russia, said Andrei Pertsev, a political journalist at the independent news agency Meduza.

“The broad masses don’t know her,” he said.

Ms Butina was now just one of many “propagandists” in the 450-member Duma, Mr. Pertsev said, adding that he believed her body-erection – her place was given to her by the governor of the Kirov region – was erroneous. a way for the government to lend more weight to her statements against America.

With her new work, “the status of a speaker seems to be increasing, and these things seem to be more weighty,” said Mr. Pertsev, who shares something undesirable with Ms. Butina.

His media outlet Meduza was declared a “foreign agent” by the Russian authorities earlier this year, echoing the accusation of Ms Butina, who did not register her activities with the Justice Department, as required by US law.

But in Russia, the label of a foreign agent is used primarily against Russian citizens engaged in independent journalism or human rights work, and increasingly it is applied to organizations and individuals whose work does not like the Kremlin.

Don’t compare our law to yours, ”Ms Butina said, adding that she considers Russian law to be less burdensome in its requirements than the American one.

As part of her plea deal with the United States, Ms. Butina had to admit that she was part of an organized effort, backed by Russian officials, to convince powerful conservatives that Russia should be considered a friend, not an enemy.

During her defense, her American lawyers argued in court that Ms Butina’s efforts were well-intentioned and stressed that she never tried to hide what she called her “diplomatic project.” Back in Russia, she denies she was ever part of a broader conspiracy and insists she acted on her own.

“If I knew that I needed to register in order to build peace between the two countries on my own initiative,” she said, “I would love to.”

Alina Lobzina took part in the report.

World Nation News Deskhttps://www.worldnationnews.com
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