Vladimir Putin on Saturday described as “an outrage” the sentencing of Russian gun rights activist Maria Butina to 18 months in prison in the US, calling her treatment a travesty of justice.
The Russian president described the sentencing as an attempt by the US to “save face” in his first public comments in the wake of Butina’s sentencing in on Friday.
Her case has been high-profile amid the speculation over the extent of Russian interference in American politics after she tried to infiltrate US conservative groups and the National Rifle Association to promote Russian political interests around the 2016 election.
“It’s an outrage,” Putin told reporters, speaking in Beijing, Reuters reported. She has been in US custody since her arrest last summer and faces deportation after serving her prison time.
“It’s not clear what she was convicted of or what crime she committed. I think it’s a prime example of ‘saving face.’ They arrested her and put the girl in jail.
“But there was nothing on her, so in order not to look totally stupid they gave her, fixed her up, with an 18-month sentence to show that she was guilty of something.”
US prosecutors did not consider her a traditional spy but had concerns that she was a threat to national security.
Butina had admitted conspiracy to act as an unregistered agent for Russia at the US district court for the District of Columbia in December, and began cooperating with the US authorities. On Friday the Siberian native, her voice breaking with emotion, begged the judge for mercy and her defense lawyers said she had been overly punished.
“My reputation is ruined, both here in the United States and abroad,” she said, asking for “a chance to go home and restart my life”, the Associated Press reported on Friday.
Butina had built a powerful network that reached into Donald Trump’s circle, tried to infiltrate the NRA, and relay intelligence on American politicians to a Russian government official.
She had cast herself as a comparative innocent caught up in a massive geopolitical power game and at Friday’s sentencing hearing, and had implored Judge Tanya Chutkan to release her with nine months of time served.
Chutkan, however, fully complied with the government’s recommendation and sentenced Butina to spend an additional nine months behind bars, before being deported. The judge said the sentence was meant “to reflect the seriousness of [Butina’s actions] and to promote deterrence”.
Judge Chutkan did, however, note that the defendant did appear to be a diligent student who earned high marks during her time at American University and who supplied dozens of letters vouching for her character from friends, family, and professors.
“You are not the worst things you’ve ever done,” Judge Chutkan told Butina. “You are a young woman. You are smart, you’re hard-working and you have a future ahead of you.”