Alleged Russian agent Maria Butina was sentenced to 18 months in prison by a federal judge on April 26.
In December, she had pleaded guilty to trying to infiltrate U.S. conservative political circles and promote Russian interests before and after the 2016 presidential election.
Her efforts to elbow her way into Republican circles appeared to be separate from the Kremlin’s sweeping election-meddling campaign that was detailed in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
She is the first Russian citizen convicted of crimes related to the election.
The 30-year-old gun rights enthusiast has been incarcerated since her arrest in July and will receive credit for the nine months previously served. She will be deported to Russia after serving her sentence.
At her hearing, Butina spoke for five minutes, her voice at times breaking, as she expressed regret for her crime and asked for forgiveness.
“I deeply regret this crime,” she said. “Ironically it has harmed my attempts to improve relationships between the two countries.” Most Americans would agree with that statement.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday criticized the 18-month sentence as “arbitrary,” according to state news agency RIA-Novosti.
“They took, grabbed her, put the girl in jail, but there was nothing to show for it,” he said.
“So it would not look completely ridiculous, they issued that verdict, they stuck on 18 months to show that she was guilty of something,” Putin added.
Butina said “I came to the U.S. not under orders but with hope. I sought to build bridges between my motherland and the country that I grew to love. Never did I wish to hurt anyone.”
In handing down the sentence, Judge Tanya Chutkan said that Butina, who studied at American University in Washington, engaged in work on behalf of a Russian official that was “dangerous.”
The conduct was sophisticated and penetrated deep into political organizations,” Chutkan[VL1] said, siding with the government’s sentencing recommendation and noting that Butina’s actions took place as Russia was actively trying to interfere in the U.S. democratic process.
While prosecutors have admitted that Butina is not a spy in the traditional sense, they argued that her crime still could have jeopardized national security.
She pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign official. She admitted to using her contacts in GOP political circles, in the National Rifle Association and at the National Prayer Breakfast to influence U.S. relations with Russia.
Butina, in her statement to the court, said, “I still hold a whisper in my heart to one day return to this country, but I know this wish is only a dream.”