- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 27, 2019

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday condemned the punishment handed down a day earlier in the U.S. against Maria Butina, a Russian woman sentenced to 18 months in prison for conspiring to act as an unregistered foreign agent.

Speaking during a press conference in Beijing, Mr. Putin said the sentence Butina received Friday was “a travesty of justice” and that her prosecution was a prime example of the U.S. “saving face.”

“They caught the girl and put her behind bars. But there is nothing to charge her with,” Mr. Putin said, Russian state media reported. “So in order not to look completely awkward, they gave her 18 months to show that she is guilty of something.”

Butina, 31, was arrested last July in Washington, D.C., and charged with acting as an unregistered agent of the Russian government. She pleaded guilty to a related count of conspiracy in December and had faced a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment.

The Department of Justice alleged that Butina tried to establish backchannels of communication between Russia and the Republican Party by infiltrating organizations including the National Rifle Association. She has denied spying for Moscow, and she said during her sentencing hearing that she had hoped to “mend relations” between the U.S. and Russia “while building my résumé.”

“She was doing this under the direction of a Russian official,” U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan countered before imposing Butina’s sentence Friday. “This was no simple misunderstanding by an overeager foreign student.”

Jailed since her arrest, Butina has already served roughly half of her 18-month sentence and could be released from prison and deported to Russia before 2020.

Reacting to her sentencing Friday, the Russian Embassy in D.C. issued a statement saying it was “outraged by the rampant lawlessness” of the judge’s decision.

“We consider the decision by a Washington court to sentence Maria Butina to 18 months behind bars as politically motivated,” the Russian Foreign Ministry added. “This sentence is an ugly stain on the American justice system, which has followed a blatant political order to the letter.”

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