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Russian 'agent' Maria Butina held in United States jail over conspiracy charges

19 July 2018

"You have upstaged Anna Chapman", a Russian official wrote to her in a private Twitter message, referring to the sultry spy who was arrested in 2010 as part of that case, according to court papers.

The 29-year old Russian woman accused of working as a spy in the U.S. - attempting to sleep her way into powerful political circles and set up a "back channel" to the Kremlin - must stay behind bars until her trial, a judge ordered Wednesday. In April 2015, Butina and Torshin traveled to Tennessee to attend a fundraiser for a political group backing the presidential campaign of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, then viewed as a leading contender for the GOP nomination.

If Butina were permitted to remain at liberty, he warned, the Russian government could get her out of the country and the US government might have no way to guarantee that she would appear.

In court papers, prosecutors said that Butina's university enrolment was a cover for her covert duties and that she suggested, falsely, on her visa application that she was no longer employed by the Russian official at the time she applied for a student visa.

Prosecutors said Butina was regarded as a covert agent by a Russian official with whom she was in touch, with text messages discovered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation showing how the official likened her to Anna Chapman, a Russian woman who was arrested in 2010 and then deported as part of a prisoner swap.

After the November 2016 election, Butina sent a Twitter message to an unnamed Russian official, proposing a meeting with USA lawmakers, which the official opposed.

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Butina was arrested over the weekend amid signs that she was planning to leave the country.

"The government is speculating that someone is a Russian spy, but thousands of Russians met intelligence operatives" in the United States, he said.

"This happened with the obvious task of minimizing the positive effect", of the Trump-Putin meeting, said foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.

Authorities have not named the Russian official, but during Wednesday's hearing, Driscoll said it is Alexander Torshin, a former legislator who is now a senior official in the Central Bank of the Russian Federation.

Paul Erickson, Republican, who matches the description of the USA citizen in the Butina indictment in a screengrab from 2003. The two began a romantic relationship and he opened a wide door for her in Washington.

Prosecutors also detailed texts between the official and Butina in which the official compares her with Anna Chapman and asks if fans want her autographs yet. She addressed a camp for young Republicans in South Dakota, and stopped by at local USA gun stores and shooting ranges.

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The woman, Maria Butina, was observed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation dining privately with a Russian diplomat suspected of being an intelligence operative in the weeks before the envoy's departure from the US last March, prosecutors say.

Her social media accounts show the redhead at an NRA national convention in short, tight cutoff jeans, and a black cowboy hat and cowboy boots, testing a range of powerful firearms. Butina's next court appearance was scheduled for July 24.

"I believe I would get along very nicely with Putin...."

The court document also charges that she "offered an individual other than U.S. Person 1 sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization". "Further, in papers seized by the FBI, Butina complained about living with U.S. Person 1 and expressed disdain for continuing to cohabitate with U.S. Person 1". She helped arrange a visit by Torshin and other Russian officials, as they sought to construct a "back channel" network of sympathetic Americans with political influence. He added she was seeking to support a better relationship between the US and Russian Federation.

"This is the battle for the future, it can not be lost! She poses with toy pistols, while you are being published with real ones".

On Wednesday Moscow said the arrest was a political move seeking to undermine the gains of the Helsinki summit.

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The indictment said Butina's and Torshin's aim was nefarious: "to penetrate the U.S. national decision-making apparatus to advance the agenda of the Russian Federation".

Russian 'agent' Maria Butina held in United States jail over conspiracy charges