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Russian national Maria Butina sentenced to 18 months in prison by US court

In this file image, Maria Butina attends a rally at Krasnopresnenskaya Zastava Square in support of legalizing the possession of handguns and gun ownership, on April 23, 2013, in Moscow. (Anton Novoderezhkin/ITAR-TASS/Zuma Press/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A U.S. judge has sentenced Russian national Maria Butina to 18 months in prison following her guilty plea late last year to a charge of conspiracy to act as an unregistered foreign agent.

The sentencing took place in a Washington, D.C., district court.

The case against Butina is separate from the now-concluded investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, but it touched on many of the same issues related to how and why Russia sought to interfere in U.S. politics in and before the 2016 presidential election.

Prosecutors say that before and during her studies at American University in Washington, she sought to build relationships with U.S. conservative political groups, including the influential National Rifle Association (NRA), on behalf of at least one powerful Kremlin-connected lawmaker.

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Butina pleaded guilty in December and agreed to cooperate with investigators. She has been held in custody since her arrest.

The Kremlin has called the charges against Butina “groundless,” and Russian President Vladimir Putin has insisted that Butina pleaded guilty “under pressure.”

In her presentencing filing, Butina’s lawyers asked the court to sentence her to time already served.

“Although Maria has committed a serious offense, just punishment does not require additional incarceration,” the lawyers wrote.

Her lawyers said Butina, a former graduate student at American University, expects to be sent back to Russia after being released from jail.