- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 26, 2019

Maria Butina arrived Saturday in Moscow after being deported from the U.S. following completion of a federal prison sentence for conspiring to act as an unregistered Russian agent.

Butina, a 30-year-old gun-rights activist, landed at Sheremetyevo Airport after being put on an international flight from Miami following her release from a Florida prison Friday.

Her return to Moscow followed more than a year behind bars in the U.S., where Butina was charged by federal prosecutors of covertly trying to advance Russian interests abroad.

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Butina was arrested in D.C. in July 2018, and she pleaded guilty late last year to a related count of conspiracy and sentenced to serve 18 months in federal prison.

She was interviewed by Russian state media on her flight to Moscow and again on television within hours of the plane landing.

“What happened to me definitely shows that America is losing its justice system. It actually has been lost,” Butina told Russian state media Saturday.

Federal prosecutors alleged that Butina tried to quietly advance Russian interests in the U.S by infiltrating groups including the National Rifle Association. She has denied spying for Moscow and has previously said that she came to the U.S. seeking to become a “peace builder” between the U.S. and Russia.

The Russian government maintained Butina’s innocence upon her return this weekend, outright dismissing the plea she previously entered in D.C. federal court.

“The partial admission of guilt that Maria was forced to make due to harsh detention conditions and the threat of a long prison term does not negate her total innocence,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “In actual fact, the Russian national was convicted solely for her active and involved civic stance and her sincere desire to further the restoration of good relations between Russia and the United States.”

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow fired back on social media, recalling Butina’s guilty plea while subtly contrasting the American and Russian legal systems.

Butina committed a crime. She was arrested, familiarized with the evidence, pleaded guilty and sentenced to serve her sentence. Her allegations of wrongdoing and plea agreements were made public. This is how a fair and open judiciary works,” the U.S. Embassy said on Twitter. “After the arrest, Butina had access to evidence against her and access to a lawyer without interference. This is how the rule of law works.”

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