UPDATE: Maria Butina was convicted of conspiracy by the Department of Justice on April 26, 2019. From DOJ:
Mariia Butina, a Russian national, was sentenced today to 18 months in prison after earlier pleading guilty to a federal charge of conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government.
The announcement was made by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Jessie K. Liu, and Assistant Director in Charge Nancy McNamara of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.
Butina, 30, a Russian citizen who had been residing in Washington D.C., pled guilty on Dec. 13, 2018, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. She was sentenced by Judge Tanya S. Chutkan. Following her incarceration, she is to be deported to Russia.
According to the government’s evidence, from approximately 2015 to 2017, Butina acted as an agent of a Russian government official. Under his direction, she provided key information about Americans who were in a position to influence United States politics and took steps to establish an unofficial line of communication between Russia and these Americans. As described in the plea documents, Butina sought to do so for the benefit of the Russian Federation. She took these actions without providing the required notifications to the Attorney General that she was in fact acting as an agent of the Russian Federation.
Butina was arrested on July 15, 2018, in Washington, D.C., and has been in custody ever since. Butina will get credit for the time she already has served. The court also granted a government motion that led to a reduced sentence in the case.
During the NRA Annual Meetings in Indianapolis two weekends ago, I met the founder and president of The Right to Bear Arms, a pro-gun rights organization in Russia. After being approved for a visa just days before the meetings started, Maria Butina attended the annual NRA Women's Leadership Luncheon as a guest of former NRA President Sandy Froman and participated in general meetings over the weekend as a guest of former NRA President David Keene. I had to opportunity to sit down with Maria to talk about why she was there and to discuss her goals for the gun rights movement in Russia. She says she's working on everything from castle doctrine, gun safety programs for kids and shifting public opinion in a pro-gun direction.
MB: My organization is all Russian, public organization. It’s called The Right to Bear Arms.
KP: What are you doing here at the NRA convention in America?
MB: We are friends with many, many organizations all over the world. We protect gun rights in Russia, and people who are gun owners and in a situation of self-defense. And we would like to know world experience, and it means that NRA, one of the most world famous and most important organizations and it means that we would like to be friends with NRA. And we invited them to our annual meeting, the third annual meeting in our life. We are a young organization. We are three years old. And we invited David Keene. He made a speech at our annual meeting. And so it's like an answer from one side. The next side is the life member of our organization. He is our Russian senator. His name is Senator Alexander Torshin. He is a life member of NRA too, and he’s usually a participant of such events, and every annual meeting of NRA. But now the situation between (our) two countries is very difficult. And we have to go here together with Senator Torshin. He is a great gun lover, he supports our organization and he’s a friend of the NRA.
KP: You talked about gun rights in Russia. What are the gun rights in Russia? Can you walk through a little bit what it’s like to be a gun owner there? What rights do you have? What rights don’t you have? It’s obviously very different from America.
MB: In Russia, many people think that in Russia there are no gun rights. It’s not true. We have gun rights, but especially for hunting. So you could buy in Russia, according to the license from police, you could buy shotguns. Not more than five units of shotguns. You could buy air rifle, not more than five units. And you can buy special kind of guns, that I think only exist in Russia and a couple of countries like Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. We call it traumatic. It’s a pistol with rubber bullets, you could carry it and you could only have two units per one license and that’s all. It’s very weak, not more than 91 joules. And this is for sale difference. And you can have gauss guns, gauss pistols. That’s all. And if you have rifle or shotgun it should be semi-automatic. Machine guns are not allowed in Russia. It’s very difficult to get a permit, a license, so you need to have medical certificate. You need to prove you use your gun safely, so have a special license. It’s rather expensive to the courses to do it. Then you need to ask the police, they will check if you have a safe metal box for keeping your gun, and then they will make a decision. You will pay small tax; it’s like two dollars, not more, per one unit. And you will ask them to give you a license. It takes a month at least, and when the month ends you could be a gun owner. So you buy a gun, register your gun (with the) police, and you are a gun owner. Every five years you need to prove that your medical certificate is ok, and you need to prove that you use your gun safely. So you need to learn at courses again. So that’s our gun rights. The main problem for Russia now is that it’s now allowed to have pistols. Real pistols. And it’s one of the goals of our organization. We try to explain to people that it's very important to have the best for self-defense gun, it's a pistol. We work with public opinion, and it changes. For three years we usually make special research to know how people, they’re pro-gun, they’re anti-gun. And three years ago it was not more than 13% of population of Russia who were pro-gun, now its 44.
KP: Why do you think it's changed?
MB: It depends on the knowledge of people. Mostly Russian people, they don’t know they have a right for gun and for self-defense. When they know that, in Russia now, its five million people who are gun owners and more than six million units in their hands, and they do not do crime, they understood that everything is ok. And them and their opinion changed. It’s what we do. And the third problem for Russia is now its problem with self-defense. People who are in self-defense cases, very often, our government tries to put them in prison. It’s like Soviet system. If somebody was killed somebody’s a killer. And we work, find such cases. We give these people lawyers and help them. Now we have a lot of cases in our organization all over Russia. When people were in prison and we prove they are innocent, they were in a situation of self-defense.
KP: So what about the American model do you think you can bring back to kind of help your organization grow and get your message out? As you mentioned, education is key to getting people to understand the importance of the issue.
MB: I know some problems from the NRA and from America that we would like to have in Russia. First is castle doctrine, it's very important and I have good news. Two weeks ago we passed in Russia castle doctrine. Now it’s allowed to protect ourselves at home. Of course we will do some special procedures more. And we need to make special, so our president need to sign this law. But (it is) the most difficult steps we made. So we collected one hundred thousand signatures to pass this law. We have such procedure in Russia to do it. And the most important castle doctrine laws are in the United States, of course. The second is how we work, and how the NRA works. How it works with people. I saw a couple of very interesting programs that I would like to share in Russia. For example, it's a program, eagle for kids [The NRA’s Eddie Eagle Program]. It’s great. I thought about it, and we discussed it with our members how to explain to children not to touch guns. And we thought that we need to works with parents, but NRA does (it) right. They work with children because parents have no chances to control children everywhere and every time. It means that it's a great idea, and I would like to do it in Russia. To work with small children in schools. And I hope that our government allow us to work with children at school because sometimes they don’t like people who have guns, unfortunately.
Stay tuned for part two tomorrow...