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On Wednesday, July 18, the District Court of Washington, DC, decided to arrest during the trial the founder and leader of the Russian Right to Arms movement, 29-year-old Maria Butina. She is suspected of spying on US territory in the interests of Russia. A Russian woman, who since 2016 lives in Washington on a student visa and maintains close ties with members of the Republican Party through public organizations, was detained by the FBI on Sunday, July 15. US law enforcement officials refuse to release her on bail to avoid escape. Well, apparently there was another confirmation that the Russian authorities are trying to influence the political processes in the US with the help of their agents. It seems that Russia again tried to violate the sovereignty of the United States.
A new attempt to violate US sovereignty
After the introduction of anti-Russian sanctions in 2014, Russian special services needed their own person in the United States undercover that could get close to representatives of the American political elite and in the course of informal communication change the negative attitude towards Russia, obtain information about the moods of supporters of anti-Russian sanctions, contribute to their abolition. The young Altai political scientist Butina was chosen for this role not accidentally. The values that her organization defends are close to Republicans who, from the time of the president-democrat Barack Obama, were supporters of the policy of anti-Russian sanctions. Republicans are against the abolition of the second amendment to the US Constitution on the right of citizens to store and carry weapons. The Right to Arms movement has existed since 2011 and its purpose is to protect the rights of civil-weapon owners and those caught in situations of necessary defense, the expansion of the right to carry firearms, and the development of weapons culture in Russia. Since its foundation until 2015, Butina has traveled around Russia's major cities, traveled abroad, and established ties with similar organizations in Kazakhstan, Israel and the United States.
The Right to Arms movement became a cover for Butina to establish links with members of the Republican Party. Butina tried to work with the National Rifle Association, which has many influential Republicans among its members, and its events are personally visited by President Donald Trump and Vice President Michael Pence. Also, she had to infiltrate religious organizations. According to The New York Times, the scheme by which Butina worked was developed as early as 2013, when ex-governor Jeb Bush and Senator Marco Rubio were predicted to be the favorite among the Republican candidates for the presidency of the United States. These policies were against rapprochement with Russia. In 2013, Butina proposed to consolidate in the Russian Constitution the right to armed self-defense, which was supported by the current adviser to the US president on national security issues John Bolton. In the same year, the board member of the National Rifle Association David King visited the Congress of the Right to Arms movement.
According to the US Justice Department, in 2015-17 Butina cooperated with some Russian official who is related to the Central Bank of the Russian Federation and the Federation Council, against which anti-Russian sanctions operate. All agree: Butina worked in tandem with the deputy chairman of the Central Bank of the Russian Federation and former member of the Federation Council Alexander Torshin, against whom sanctions were imposed by the US Treasury since April 2018. Torshin attended the Right to Arms movement and is a lifelong member of the National Rifle Association. The FBI suspected him of transferring money to the accounts of the association to finance the presidential campaign. He took Butina with him to the events of the organization, where they tried to contribute to the secret meeting between Trump and Putin, to get acquainted with the members of his family. Torshin supported Trump as a candidate for the presidency of the United States, called him a supporter of family values, he considered him "a real man" who was supposedly really interested in cooperation with Russia. During one of the events of the National Rifle Association in Lewisville in May 2016, Torshin and Butina offered to organize a meeting between Putin and Trump. However, the president's son-in-law, Jared Kouchner, rejected the proposal. It seems that this couple did everything to please the Republicans and convince them that Trump and Putin will get on well.
"Chekist" methods in action
According to the information presented by the special agent of the FBI, Kevin Helson, Butina maintained contacts with FSB officers, including Anna Chapman, who was involved in the network of Russian intelligence agents in the US, which was exposed. Chapman was deported to Russia in July 2010. The FBI opened e-mail correspondence with Butina and Torshin, FSB employees and a Russian oligarch close to the Kremlin, whose name was not disclosed. She was given valuable instructions, and she described the moods that reign among Republicans. During the investigation, FBI agents found out that Butina cohabited with a 56-year-old American citizen, through whom she gained access to a large number of influential officials. As reported by the National Public Radio, it could be Paul Erickson, a political fundraiser of a conservative sense with connections in the National Rifle Association. The FBI suggests that Butina even offered to have sex with one of the people in exchange for him to take her into one of the organizations of interest.
The lawyer of the girl Robert Driscoll denies her involvement in the activities of Russian special services. Butina tried to cover up tracks of her activities so that no one had any suspicions that she was somehow connected with Russian special services. Russian Facebook users Victoria Lacea and Gennadiy Tchernov analyzed Butina's profile and found out that she was communicating with the supporters of the Russian opposition, who are "friends" with her. Victoria Lacea does not exclude the possibility that the name and surname of the girl are a legend and she just made herself the image of a supporter of the Russian opposition.
At least some of the familiar girls among users of the social network were skeptical about the information that she is an agent of the Kremlin. Moscow citizen Nikolai Nikitaev, who talked with Butina about civilian weapons, is convinced that the photo with Torshin and studying in the US is not a reason to accuse her of working for the Kremlin, and the organization "The Right to Arms" needs links in the highest echelons of power. In his opinion, the Kremlin could specifically adjust everything in such a way that the girl was put in an American prison for opposing views.
However, such speculation is highly controversial. Most likely, Butina acted with old "chekist" methods. Close relations with the right people is one of the methods of recruiting and extracting information that is practiced in the special services, including the FSB or the KGB during the Cold War years. Such a woman earns the confidence of officials or other spies from foreign countries. With a favorable combination of circumstances, it is possible to obtain information of interest or to persuade an official to cooperate. Butina was in favor of members of the Republican Party. Apparently, this behavior aroused suspicion among the Republican "hawks" of the old school, who are familiar with the Cold War not by hearsay.
Spot on Trump's reputation
The spy scandal in Washington left a big fat stain on Donald Trump's reputation, which will not be easy to get rid of. The situation is paradoxical. During a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on July 16, the American leader talked about the absence of grounds for Russia's intervention in the presidential election in 2016. However, the next day the US president stated that he was accepting the US intelligence report on Russia's interference in the elections, but added, that this did not affect the voting results. Trump contradicts himself. Three days passed after the meeting between Putin and Trump in Helsinki, where the Russian president argued that Russia had not interfered and was not going to interfere in US political processes, as another Russian spy appeared on the dock, trying to manipulate the opinion of the US authorities. Earlier in the US, 12 representatives of the Russian special services were accused of stealing personal information from 500,000 American voters and conducting cyber attacks on the servers of the Democratic Party.
Butina's case was a slap in the face of the US president and another confirmation that it is impossible to agree with Putin, he is not responsible for his words and uses misinformation at the first opportunity. Not for nothing did the congressmen accuse Trump of insufficient pressure on Putin. While Trump is trying to find a common language with the master of the Kremlin, Russian special services are sending their people to Washington in front of the White House. It is not known how many more such messed-up Cossacks like Butina roam in the American land and extract the necessary information for their Kremlin curators.
The American president became a hostage to the situation. In case of proving Russia's interference in the US elections, Trump's opponents in the US Congress, both among the Republicans and the Democrats, will have grounds to arrange impeachment procedure, and then hold early presidential elections. After all, if Russia interfered in the elections, then the outcome of the vote is invalid. Trump does not want to lose power because Russia has furnished everything so that the American establishment has the impression that he is an agent of the Kremlin's influence. Therefore, Trump tries not to accuse Russia of interfering in US political processes. But the exposure of more and more new Russian spies is not in favor of the owner of the Oval Office.
The espionage scandal in Washington is another failure for the Russian leadership. When the investigation into the "Butina case" is completed and she is in an American prison, the Congress will have every reason to tighten anti-Russian sanctions in response to another attempt to violate US sovereignty. Sanctions can be introduced by the US Treasury in the same way, as in April this year, against new Russian oligarchs, officials, state and private enterprises, in order to damage the Russian economy.