Maria Butina Sentenced to 18 Months in Prison for Not Registering as a Russian Agent

Butina apologizes for the 'discord' she created

Russian graduate student Maria Butina, who found herself at the center of a preposterously complicated and entirely fictional spying case, has been sentenced to 18 months in prison on the only charge prosecutors were able to make stick, failing to register as a foreign agent for Russia.

Prosecutors must see this as a clear failure, originally starting with elaborate allegations about Butina being a spy who used sex to infiltrate Republican circles, before ultimately having to back away from almost everything they originally claimed.

Even the charge that stuck, violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) was an incredibly flimsy charge, built around her having seemingly unofficial contact with some Russian officials and an interest in gun rights that had her active in the NRA.

Somehow this was spun into “infiltrating” the NRA to some vague end for the sake of the trial. It should be noted, however, that even in the case of overt violations of FARA, which this clearly was not, a prison sentence is extremely rare. Indeed, many thousands of people in the DC area would be argued to be violating FARA under the interpretation of this case, but it has never been suggested that they be arrested, let alone imprisoned.

Generally FARA is a law used by prosecutors to try to get leverage on someone for the sake of coercing testimony. In Butina’s case, all the other allegations were on even shakier ground, and it turned into a consolation prize for prosecutors desperate to make something stick.

Butina responded to the conviction by pleading ignorance of the law, saying she had wanted to “mend relations while building my resume,” and apologizing for instead creating “discord.”

Judge Tanya Chutkan gave Butina credit for the 9 months she has already been in jail, meaning she’ll only serve 9 more. After that, she is to be immediately deported.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is news editor of Antiwar.com.