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Who is 'gun-loving Russian spy’ Maria Butina?

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By Euronews
Who is 'gun-loving Russian spy’ Maria Butina?

On the day Donald Trump was cosying up to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, authorities back in the US were telling the world about a woman they suspected of being a Moscow spy.

Maria Butina, 29, was arrested on charges of being a foreign agent with ties to Russian intelligence operatives and was in contact with them while in the United States, said federal prosecutors on Wednesday. 

Butina was charged with “conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian government,” the US Justice Department said on Monday. 

Her attorney, Robert Driscoll, denied Butina being a spy.

Butina, who studied at American University in Washington, is a founder of the pro-gun Russian advocacy group, Right to Bear Arms.

She has been described as “the public face of gun rights” in Russia.

Butina is accused of working with two unnamed US citizens and a Russian official to try and influence American politics and infiltrate a pro-gun rights organisation, according to the US Justice Department.

There is no official confirmation of which pro-gun rights organisation Butina is accused of trying to penetrate.

But Facebook posts show her posing in pictures with the National Rifle Association (NRA). A spokesman for NRA declined to comment.

Butina allegedly arranged dinners in Washington and New York City and tried to develop relationships with American politicians to establish "back channel" lines of communication to "penetrate the US national decision-making apparatus," the complaint said.

The complaint did not specifically mention Trump's campaign.

In a video posted on YouTube from the FreedomFest event in Las Vegas in July 2015, Butina is said to be heard asking then-candidate Trump, if he would continue to support sanctions against Russia if he were elected president.

The Justice Department said that a hearing is set for Wednesday.