Russian student living in US charged with conspiracy to act as Putin’s agent

A Washington-based Russian student, who is affiliated with the National Rifle Association, has been charged with spying for Vladimir Putin’s government.

Pro-gun activist Maria Butina is accused of working with two US citizens and a Russian official to try to influence American politics.

She was charged yesterday with conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian federation within the US without prior notification to the attorney general.

Butina is accused of working under a high-level official employed by the Russian Central Bank and was recently sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

The court records do not name the official but she is pictured in numerous photographs on her Facebook page with Russia’s Central Bank deputy head Alexander Torshin, who was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in April.

Butina, who is a student at American University and the co-founder of pro-gun organisation Right to Bear Arms, was arrested on Sunday and will attend a hearing on Wednesday.

According to the complaint against her, she worked with two unnamed U.S. citizens and the Russian official to try to influence American politics and infiltrate a pro-gun rights organisation.

The complaint does not name the group; however, photos on her Facebook page show she has attended events sponsored by the National Rifle Association.

She arranged dinners in Washington and New York City and tried to develop relationships with American politicians in order to establish "back channel" lines of communication to "penetrate the U.S. national decision-making apparatus to advance the agenda of the Russian Federation," the complaint said.

News of the arrest was released just hours after US president Donald Trump met with Putin and then held a joint press conference that stunned many political observers in the US.

President Trump hailed "direct, open and deeply productive" talks with Putin as the pair looked to rebuild ties between the US and Russia during the meeting.

At the conference, President Trump admitted that the relationship between the two countries "has never been worse" but said "that changed as of about four hours ago."

It is not clear if he was aware of Butina’s arrest before he made the statement.

His Russian counterpart denied claims the country had meddled America’s 2016 presidential election but admitted he had hoped Trump would defeat Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, saying: "I wanted him to win because he talked about normalising Russian-American relations."

President Trump backed up Putin’s denial.

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