World, Americas

US: Alleged Russian spy pleads guilty to conspiracy

Maria Butina, accused with conspiring to influence US politics, could face up to 5 years in prison

US: Alleged Russian spy pleads guilty to conspiracy

Washington DC

By Umar Farooq


Maria Butina, who is accused of being a Russian operative and trying to influence U.S. policy, pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy on Thursday.

During a plea hearing at U.S. District Court in Washington, Butina admitted that she and her boyfriend, Republican operative Paul Erickson, worked and conspired with a Russian agent to "establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over U.S. politics."

The Russian agent was reported to be Alexander Torshin, a deputy governor of Russia's central bank. Torshin was sanctioned by the U.S. in April. 

After coming to the U.S., the alleged spy had enrolled as a graduate student at American University in Washington, and became a gun rights advocate, working with prominent members of the National Rifle Association. 

Prosecutors said that in 2015, she had drafted a proposal called "Description of the Diplomacy Project" in which she would act as a transmitter of communications between the U.S. and Russia.

Prosecutors also said the Russian national hosted "friendship dinners" where she worked to create communication channels with high ranking U.S. politicians.

She was charged in July with conspiracy to work on behalf of Moscow's government, and being a Russian agent.

While the court had not decided on her sentencing she faces a maximum prison sentence of five years, and is very likely to face deportation after finishing out her sentence.

A later hearing is scheduled for February to discuss when Butina should be sentenced. 

The hearing marks the first time a Russian national has been convicted of seeking to influence U.S. politics in the span of the 2016 presidential election.

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