Russian Spy Butina Argues her Relation with Russian Officials Was Only Casual

The Russian woman that was accused of being a spy for the Kremlin with a mission to set up back-channel communications between U.S. politicians and Russian intelligence in court documents explained that she does not have a formal relationship with Alexander Torshin, a Russian billionaire and politician, CNN reported.

Maria Butina, 29, and her lawyers on Friday argued that Butina, currently in custody in Virginia, has no relationship beyond a casual friendship with Torshin, a former Russian lawmaker and current head of the country’s central bank.

Torshin is “actually just a friend,” Butina’s lawyers wrote, adding that she should be released from jail as the government’s case supposedly rests on circumstantial evidence. Butina previously worked as an assistant to Torshin, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s close allies.

“The government relies on innuendo and undefined phrases, soundbites and alarmist buzzwords,” her attorneys wrote, according to CNN. “The assertion that she was arrested for an alleged ‘role in a covert Russian influence operation in the United States’ is a war drum based on pure fiction.”

Torshin’s business dealings have been under investigation for years, and in 2016 was connected to the leader of a Spanish gang for which Spanish police said Torshin laundered money, according to Crime Russia.

Butina became a fixture in some Washington, D.C. conservative political circles after arriving in the country in 2016, according to court documents. Russia’s government has denied that Butina is a spy, characterizing her as a student eager to study in the U.S.

Butina was indicted last month for operating as an unregistered foreign agent, with prosecutors arguing she cultivated relationships with the National Rifle Association (NRA) and conservative politicians.

“The court filings detail the Russian official’s and Butina’s efforts for Butina to act as an agent of Russia inside the United States by developing relationships with U.S. persons and infiltrating organizations having influence in American politics, for the purpose of advancing the interests of the Russian Federation,” the Justice Department said.

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