How Maria Butina fooled the Russian opposition

Maria Butina, arrested in the United States on charges of promoting Russia's interests as a "foreign agent" without registration, participated in human rights and opposition projects in Russia before coming to America, and none of the activists who knew her could even imagine that she was working for the government or special services. This was reported by the press secretary of the Russian Bar Association for Human Rights Julia Guseinova in an interview.

"Maria participated in many of our events until 2015. We conducted an excellent study on life expectancy around the world, collected data on the human potential index with a forecast until 2050. I did not notice any "jingoism" on her part. On the contrary, Butina expressed a very sober assessment of what was happening and was strongly opposed to many initiatives of the authorities – very sober and reasonable. She was one of the few speakers who did not need to be told what needs to be said at the events. Also, Masha took a very tough and confident position against sexual harassment," Julia recalls.

According to Yuliya Guseinova, Maria Butina showed particular interest in the topic of space exploration and the gender equality in this field.

"Maria entered the women's space program, very much wanted to fly into space, prepared, trained by herself. She was very purposeful in terms of space exploration, constantly communicated with us about this, always posted information on this topic, carefully followed the developments in this area. This, of course, was very disarming. That's why for us there was no hint that she had a hidden agenda," – summed up Julia.

Maria Butina made a similar impression on the lawyer and human rights activist Maria Bast. On July 16, when information about the Russian woman's arrest became public, Maria Bast wrote on her Facebook page that Butina's eyes sparkled while talking about space.

"She joined our Women's Space Program, spoke out about discrimination against women in the space industry, we filed a protest permit to demonstrate against Roskosmos in defense of women's rights," Bast remembers, although adding that Butina may have been tempted "by money and position to the detriment of her dream."

According to the Russian opposition members living in the US, Maria Butina tried to make contacts with them, but nothing came of it.

"Once she came to meet us when we picketed the Russian embassy in Washington. However, after Maria said that she was involved in the movement to legalize guns in Russia, I immediately realized that this sounds very strange, and something is not right here. We did not maintain any contact after this", one of the initiators of the adoption of the Magnitsky Act, human rights activist Tanja Nyberg told in her comments.

Some other Russian dissidents living in the US also noted the discrepancy between Butina's behavior in America and the image created by her in Russia.

"The Russian authorities are afraid even of unarmed schoolchildren who participate in anti-government rallies. The regime is based on the intimidation of people and the constant use of force. How could anyone seriously believe that a person who promotes such a dangerous and unpopular among authorities idea as the unlimited gun ownership by citizens in a totalitarian country would enjoy such support and favor of the authorities? Of course, Butina's image appealed to elderly American gun lobbyists, but for those who are familiar with Russian realities, her legend seemed to be nonsense," the activists say.

As a reminder, on July 16, the US Justice Department announced the arrest of a Russian woman Maria Butina; she is accused of trying to promote Russian interests in the US without registering as a "foreign agent". The founder of the public organization "The Right to Arms", Butina is thought to be close to the deputy chairman of the Central Bank, former senator Alexander Torshin – judging by the American indictment, he was in charge of her activities in the US.

According to the FBI, Butina met with a Russian diplomat, whom US intelligence officials suspect of intelligence activities, actively made friends with prominent politicians and tried to create a shadow channel of communication between the Kremlin and the administration of Donald Trump. At the same time, she informed her American contacts that the channels she created were approved by the Administration of the President of Russia and personally by Vladimir Putin.

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Kseniya Kirillova

Kseniya Kirillova

Kseniya Kirillova is a Russian journalist focussing on analysing Russian society, political processes in modern Russia, and the current Russian-Ukrainian conflict. She writes for Radio Liberty and other outlets and is an expert of the Ukrainian Centre for Army, Сonversion, and Disarmament studies.

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