MOSCOW, April 26. /TASS/. The verdict of a US court sentencing Russian national Maria Butina to 18 months behind bars is unfair, Chairman of the Russian State Duma’s (lower house of parliament) Committee for Foreign Affairs Leonid Slutsky stated on Friday.
"Maria Butina’s verdict is overly strict; the court chose not to be lenient and sentenced her to eighteen months in prison. The verdict was made despite the defense’s appeal that she should be sentenced to 9 months she had already spent in custody, the majority of it in solitary confinement… And this decision was made solely on the basis of statements claiming that Maria was allegedly acting on the behalf of Russian officials. In my opinion, this is unfair," Slutsky told reporters on Friday.
He added that Butina’s case has been "political and fabricated from the air poisoned with Russophobia." "She was broken down and forced to sign a plea deal with the prosecution and to admit to something that she is unlikely to have consciously done. Nevertheless, Butina’s trial has been made a spectacle," the MP noted.
"It is necessary to continue the fight, to file an appeal and to do everything in our power for Maria Butina to return to Russia as soon as possible," Slutsky concluded.
Butina’s lawyer Robert Driscoll earlier said that Butina might return to Russia in the fall. He added that the defense is unlikely to file an appeal, as the Russian citizen’s plea deal puts certain restrictions on appealing the sentence.
Earlier on Friday, a court in Washington sustained the prosecution’s request for sentencing Butina to 18 months. Judge Tanya Chutkan ignored the defense lawyers’ request Butina should be sentenced to a term equal to the period she has already spent in custody.
Maria Butina, 30, was arrested in Washington DC on July 15, right before the Helsinki meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Donald Trump. The US Department of Justice said that she was 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."
On December 13, Butina pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the US law governing foreign agents operating in the country and signed a plea agreement. The prosecution said at the time that the process of Butina’s cooperation with the investigation might take some time.
Butina had arrived in the United States for a course of studies. Last spring she obtained a master’s degree at American University, where she studied international relations.