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Convicted Russian agent Butina arrives in Moscow after release from US prison

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.

Convicted Russian agent Maria Butina has arrived in Moscow, a day after she was released from a U.S. prison where she was being held on charges of acting as an unregistered foreign agent in the United States.

Butina, a university graduate student who sought to infiltrate conservative U.S. political groups and promote Russia’s agenda around the time that U.S. President Donald Trump rose to power, left a low-security facility in Florida and boarded a plane to Moscow on October 25.

She had been in custody since her arrest in July 2018.Butina pleaded guilty in December to conspiring to act as an unregistered agent for Russia.

She admitted that she and a former Russian lawmaker worked to leverage contacts in the National Rifle Association (NRA) to pursue back channels to American conservatives during the 2016 presidential campaign, when Trump, a Republican, defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Upon her arrival at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on October 26, Butina made a brief statement to journalists, saying she was “very, very, very glad to return home.”

“I am very grateful to everyone who supported me, to all those Russian citizens who helped me and wrote me letters, who helped both in word and in deed, donated money for my defense,” Butina said. “I’m extremely happy to see my family.”

She then stood silently beside her father and Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova while journalists shot video footage of her holding a bouquet of flowers.

Zakharova told the journalists that Butina “was not and she is not guilty in committing anything or deciding to commit anything” in the United States.

“She really did no harm to anybody,” Zakharova said. “She’s not a threat. She is just a girl. She is just a young woman. She tried to invest her youth, if you wish — or her gift, her talent — in a people-to-people context. This is actually normal, you know. This is normal.”

Butina violated U.S. law because she did not report her efforts to promote the Kremlin’s political agenda in the United States to the U.S. Justice Department, which requires the registration of lobbyists and others who do the bidding of foreign governments.

Butina was sentenced to 18 months in prison but received credit for time already served before her conviction.

Despite her guilty plea in a U.S. court, her lawyers in the United States said on October 25 that she was not a spy and that the case had nothing to do with espionage or election interference.

Butina’s attorney, Bob Driscoll, said U.S. immigration officials accompanied Butina back to Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has criticized the case against Butina, calling it “arbitrary” and saying Moscow authorities “don’t understand why she was sentenced.”

With reporting by AP, Reuters, CNN, NBC, dpa, TASS