ST.PETERSBURG, July 17. /TASS/. The news about the arrest of Russian national Maria Butina in the US on charges of espionage in favor of Russia came as a complete surprise for her next-of-kin living in St. Petersburg, her sister told TASS on Tuesday.
"It was of course unexpected. We learned about this from the media, and naturally the family [is monitoring the situation]," her sister Marina Butina said, adding that the family has not been in contact with Maria since her arrest.
She declined to comment on the family’s future moves regarding the detention.
Colleagues look back on Butina’s attributes
Yaroslava Shashkova, one of Maria Butina’s academic supervisors when she was doing her post-graduate work, last contacted her former student in 2017.
"The topic of her master’s dissertation was entitled: "Single-issue political advocacy groups." Of course, I knew that she had left for the US, I signed a reference letter. We had been corresponding since she left for the US, but our most recent telephone call was last year," Shashkova added.
She said the news that her former student was suspected of espionage came as an unpleasant surprise. The professor said most possibly Maria’s actions had been misinterpreted.
"She stayed in touch with all of us, with the academic department, she was always glad to meet with students. When we needed assistance from post-graduates, she was among the most active. I would characterize her in short as clever, goal-oriented and active," Shashkova noted.
Artyom Kuznetsov, a journalist from Russia’s Altai Region who used to work with Butina, said she had always had "a bit of an adventurous spirit". He said he had known her as an active person with a clear position who was not ready to renounce her views even if they were not shared by her acquaintances.
On Monday, the US Department of Justice said Russian citizen Maria Butina had been arrested in Washington, DC on charges of acting as an unregistered agent of the Russian government.
According to the US Justice Department, the 29-year-old Butina is suspected of acting "as an agent of Russia inside the United States by developing relationships with US persons and infiltrating organizations having influence in American politics, for the purpose of advancing the interests of the Russian Federation."
The complaint further states that Butina had the right to enter and reside in the United States on a student visa, but "undertook her activities without officially disclosing the fact that she was acting as an agent of Russian government, as required by law."
She faces up to five years in prison if found guilty by a court. The charges in the criminal complaint are merely allegations and every defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Court hearings on Butina’s case have been scheduled to take place on July 18, in Washington, DC. Until then, the Russian national will remain in custody.