Maria Butina, who admitted to advocating acting as a concealed Russian agent and upsetting US conservative leaders with her activist activism, was sentenced to 18 months by federal judge D.C.
Judge Tanja Chutkan's sentence was what the justice department asked for Butina, although she would serve more than nine months thanks to the time already in jail. "The behavior was sophisticated and profoundly penetrated into US political organizations," said Chutkan before he handed the severe punishment.
Butina is a 30-year-old Russian citizen who came to the United States to study at the American University in Washington, DC. and had been courting activists for the rights of arms and conservatives, especially in the National Gun Association. She was arrested in July last year and was charged with breaking US law banning people from acting as foreign agents without telling the general attorney – the prosecution of the lawsuit, which is characterized as "espionage-light". Butina pleaded guilty in December and agreed to cooperate with the government.
Just before she was convicted, Butina made an emotional plea for leniency. Her voice shook as she spoke.
"My parents discovered my arrest of the morning news they see in their rural house in a Siberian village," she said. "I love them dearly, but I hurt them morally and financially, they suffer all of this, I ruined my own life, I came to the United States not under any orders, but with hope, and now nothing remains, but repentance."
While living in the United States, Butina communicates with then-Russian central bank, Alexander Torshin, for her efforts to build relations with the Americans. In one case, she argued that she had an influence on who would become Secretary of Trump. In December 2015, she even helped organize a delegation of NRA leaders to visit Moscow, where they met powerful figures in the Russian government.
Butina said she would register as a foreign advocate in the Justice Department, but claimed she did not know US legislation.
"I deeply regret this crime, not only because it hurt me, my beloved friends and my family, but ironically, it is detrimental to my attempts to improve the relations between the two countries," she said.
There was nothing to do with it.
"This was not simply a misunderstanding by a foreign student of excessive origin," Chutkan said, saying that the crime of Butina was guilty of "is serious and jeopardizes the country's national security."
Eric Kennerson, the prosecutor who was considering the case, told Chutkan that Butina was running a plan to establish contacts between the two governments in favor of Russia. The information was "extremely important for the Russian Federation," he said.
"There is no doubt that she is not just a student of the city," he said.
"Her behavior shows how easy it is for a foreign government to attack Americans in the United States," he added.
One of her lawyers, Alfred Curry, withdrew from Kenerson's argument.
"Mary is not a spy," he said. "She is not intelligence, she has never been employed by the Russian government, she knows about no secret codes, guards, illegal people, she never engaged in covert activities and she never lied to our government."
During her time in the US, Butina also entered into a romantic relationship with Paul Eriksson, a longtime insider of conservative movement, who helped make friends with the NRA. Eriksson was charged this year in South Dakota on charges of several financial crimes, none of which was Butina or Russia.
The punishment marks the end of a two-year saga that hangs Washington and embodies tensions between the United States and Russia stemming from the interference of Moscow in the 2016 elections.
The justice department has asked Butina to receive an 18-month prison sentence. Butina asked the judge to condemn her for the time she was already there.
Butina has said she co-operates with federal investigators extensively after entering her statement of guilty in December last year. And she said that ahead of her plea, her future looks bleak.
"I have three degrees, but now I am convicted offender without work, no money and no freedom," she said. "My reputation has been destroyed, both here in the United States and abroad. And while I know that I am not the evil person who is painted in the media, I am responsible for these consequences."
Butina will be deported back to Russia after being released from prison.
"It's still holding a whisper in my heart to get back to this country once," she added, "but I know that this desire is just a dream."