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US prosecutors seek 18-month sentence for Russia’s Butina

Maria Butina's mugshot after being booked into the Alexandria detention center (Alexandria, Virginia Detention Center/Released)

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

U.S. prosecutors are asking a judge to hand Russian citizen Maria Butina an 18-month sentence after she pleaded guilty late last year to a charge of conspiracy to act as an unregistered foreign agent.

“Activities at issue in this case are part of Russia’s broader scheme to acquire information and establish relationships and communication channels that can be exploited to the Russian Federation’s benefit,” prosecutors wrote in a presentencing memo on April 19.

Butina, who pleaded guilty in December and agreed to cooperate with investigators, is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court in Washington on April 26.

She faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and has been jailed since her arrest in July in the case that helped raise tensions between Washington and Moscow.

Butina admitted that she and former Russian lawmaker Aleksandr Torshin used their contacts in the National Rifle Association to pursue back channels to American conservatives during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The charges against Butina were brought by federal prosecutors in Washington and her case was unrelated to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the election.

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, the 30-year-old 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.

“She has been separated from her family, in a foreign country, for over nine months. She has languished for three of those months in administrative segregation — solitary confinement by another name — where she was enclosed in a small cell for 22 hours a day,” the filing states.