The Russian foreign ministry mounted a #FreeMariaButina campaign Thursday to demand freedom for Maria Butina, a Russian gun rights activist who has ties to the National Rifle Association. Butina was arrested last Sunday and charged with conspiracy to act as an agent to the Russian Federation.
The Russian foreign ministry Twitter account even changed their profile picture to one of Butina, complete with the #FreeMariaButina at the bottom of the picture.
Mariia Butina, who goes by Maria Butina, is a political activist and former assistant to Russian Senator Aleksandr Torshin, a Putin ally, and the founder of Right to Bear Arms, a gun rights group.
According to Sputnik News, “earlier on Thursday, representatives of the Russian Embassy in the United States visited Butina, who is still in custody, charged with conspiring to act as a foreign agent in the United States and acting as a foreign agent without registering with the US Department of Justice — two felony charges she has repeatedly denied.”
On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zaharova claimed that the U.S. detained Butina in an effort to disrupt the Helsinki summit, as Butina was arrested shortly before the summit took place. She said that the timing of her arrest was intended to “chill its atmosphere.”
“It seems that the FBI is conducting a political put-up job instead of carrying out its duty to fight crime,” Zakharova said, noting that the news of Butina’s arrest was received “mildly speaking, with anxiety.”
“For our part, we are taking all possible measures to defend the legitimate rights and interests of the Russian citizen,” she added.
Butina is accused of developing relationships with American politicians and a “gun rights organization,” none of which are named in the affidavit supporting the criminal complaint, according to the Washington Post. FBI Special Agent Kevin Helson wrote that Butina was attempting to “establish a ‘back channel’ communication for representatives of the Government of Russia.”
The affidavit also contains communications via direct messages on Twitter between Butina and the unnamed Russian official. “Your political star has risen in the sky,” the official told Butina. “Now it is important to rise to the zenith and not burn out (fall) prematurely,” and they later discussed the “Russia-USA friendship society.”
The Russian foreign ministry on Monday also tweeted “we agree” in response to a tweet from President Trump referring to the investigation of the 2016 presidential election as a “Rigged Witch Hunt.”
Trump also wrote on Twitter that “years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity” are to blame for poor U.S.-Russia relations ahead of his summit on Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.