Convicted Russian agent Maria Butina was released from a Florida prison on Friday and embarked on a 13-hour plane ride back to Russia. Butina served an 18-month sentence for conspiring to act as an unregistered agent for the Kremlin to influence US conservative gun-rights group, reported Reuters.
Butina, 31, was released early Friday from prison in Tallahassee, Florida, due to good behavior and a change in federal law. Her original release was expected in early November, Butina's attorney, Robert Driscoll, told Reuters.
Upon her release from jail, she was immediately detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) authorities and taken to Miami International Airport for a 6 pm est. flight to Moscow.
Federal prosecutors last year alleged Butina was a Russian agent who infiltrated the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the National Prayer Breakfast to gather intel for Russia.
The Siberia native admitted to colluding with Russian security officers and several Americans to align Washington's policy toward Moscow.
Court filings show Butina had connections with Russia's Federal Security Services. US investigators obtained detailed conversations between her and Russian intelligence officials.
Butina's case was one of the latest examples of anti-Russian hysteria. American media identified her as a Russian spy in 2018 and accused her of trading sex for political favors.
Russian President Vladimir Putin rejected the idea she was a spy. He said last April, "it's not clear what she was convicted of or what crime she committed."
"It's not clear what she was convicted of or what crime she committed," Putin said. "I think it's a prime example of 'saving face.' They arrested her and put the girl in jail. But there was nothing on her, so in order not to look totally stupid they gave her, fixed her up, with an 18-month sentence to show that she was guilty of something."
Journalist Martin Summers told RT News that Butina was "collateral damage" in the escalating anti-Russian hysteria campaign by American media.
"Because they've got her caught up in this, they've got to think of something she's supposedly done. And she hasn't done anything that could be classed as spying. We've now got to a ridiculous situation when any Russian person who comments on Western politics is accused of being some sort of agent for their own security services," Summers said.
RT spoke with Butina's father who said the 18-month sentence has put Maria through a lot of psychological distress. The first thing she needs to do when she arrives home is rest and recover.
"Every single day of imprisonment for any person would have been a very severe psychological trauma," he said.
"Masha is a strong person; she never lost her fortitude even though she was held in solitary confinement for months. Nevertheless, there are problems, for sure."
Before Butina was convicted last year, she told the court she was "truly sorry" for what she did and said she should've registered as a foreign agent.