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A Russian woman who admitted to being a secret agent for the Kremlin has been sentenced to 18 months in prison. The defendant, Maria Butina, will also be deported after she completes her sentence. (April 26)
AP

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday blasted the U.S. sentencing of self-styled Russian political gadfly and gun-rights activist Maria Butina as an “outrage” and a “travesty of justice.”

Butina, 30, was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Friday for her role in a Russian effort to infiltrate U.S. political organizations. The sharp response from Putin over her case could have negative implications for an American corporate security executive who was arrested in Moscow in early January on espionage charges.

The U.S. sentence means Butina will serve another nine months in custody before she is deported to Russia. She already has spent nine months in jail while her case was pending. 

Butina, 30, was accused of engaging in a years-long campaign to court politically connected Americans and infiltrate political organizations, like the National Rifle Association, on behalf of the Kremlin. She was indicted and arrested in July and pleaded guilty in December to acting as a foreign agent for Russia without registering in the United States.

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This Aug. 17 photo provided by the Alexandria, Va., Detention Center shows Maria Butina, who pleaded guilty in December to acting as a foreign agent for Russia without registering in the United States. (Photo: (Alexandria Detention Center via AP)

“This case is not simply about failing to notify the attorney general,” U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan said. “It is because she didn’t register that her conduct was so dangerous.” 

Putin, speaking to reporters in Beijing, was blunt with his assessment of the conviction and sentencing: “It’s an outrage.”

“It’s not clear what she was convicted of or what crime she committed,” he said, according to the Russian Interfax news agency. 

He said it was a prime example of “saving face.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures while speaking to the media after the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing on April 27. (Photo: Sergei Ilnitsky, Pool, AP)

“They got, grabbed and threw the girl behind the bars, but there’s nothing to charge her with,” he said. “Yes, nothing to charge her with. But they sentenced her to 18 months so it would not look completely nonsensical, to show that she is guilty of something.”

In a court filing last week, prosecutors said for the first time that her efforts had the hallmarks of a Russian espionage operation, suggesting that she was acting as a “spotter” to help Russian spies identify Americans they could cultivate. 

In the sentencing, Chutkan acknowledged that Butina, who attended graduate school in Washington, was a “legitimate” and “hardworking” student. But the judge also said that while studying at American University, Butina sought to collect information about U.S. political figures under the direction of a Russian official at a time when the Kremlin was trying to undermine the American political system. 

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