Maria Butina, the Russian national who was convicted by the United States for conspiring to act as an unregistered foreign agent, has equated her imprisonment in the United States to “torture”.
In an interview with Russian state news outlet RT (Russia Today) after her return to Moscow yesterday, Butina said her 117 days in solitary confinement were “probably the most terrifying experience that I ever had in my life”.
“What happened to me definitely shows that America is losing its justice system,” said the 30-year-old, who was released from a prison in Tallahassee, Florida, on Friday. “It actually has been lost.”
In an interview with Russian state media apparently recorded during the flight, Butina insisted on her innocence.
“Some actions will need to be taken with regards to the outrage that happened to me,” RIA news agency quoted her as saying.
Rebecca Ross, spokeswoman at the US embassy in Moscow, said Butina had committed a crime.
“She was arrested and presented with the evidence, pleaded guilty and was sentenced,” Ross wrote on Twitter.
Butina was arrested in July of last year, accused of working to advance the Kremlin’s agenda through the National Rifle Association (NRA) gun lobby and the 2016 presidential election campaign.
She was believed to have taken orders from a high-ranking Russian official who has been sanctioned by the US.
In the interview, Butina insisted that she was “just a student believing in peace-building” between the US and Russia.
She claimed that her only crime “was not to register” with the Justice Department, adding: “Is it really normal to keep a person for four months in solitary confinement and then 18 months in prison for not filing a piece of paper?”
Butina said she only confessed to conspiring to act as an unregistered foreign agent in the US to avoid going to trial “in the middle of anti-Russian hysteria” and facing a 15-year sentence.
She was sentenced in April to 18 months in prison, with credit for time already served.
The Russian government had demanded Butina’s release, disputing the allegations against her.
She had admitted to a federal court in Washington to have worked under the direction of a Moscow government representative in the United States.
Earlier yesterday, local broadcasters carried images of Butina hugging her father at Sheremetyevo International Airport.
“Russians never surrender,” an emotional Butina told reporters at the airport, flanked by her father and the Russian foreign ministry’s spokeswoman.
Clutching a bouquet of roses, the 30-year-old graduate student thanked her supporters and added she was happy to be back.
Earlier this year Russian President Vladimir Putin called the United States’s treatment of Butina a travesty of justice and said her sentence looked like an attempt by US law enforcement and judicial officials to save face.
Despite his criticism of the way Butina was treated, Putin has no plans to meet with her, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said this week.
In the past Putin has warmly welcomed home Russian agents arrested abroad.
The Russian leader said in 2010 that he had sung patriotic songs with Anna Chapman, one of 10 Russian agents deported from the United States as part of the countries’ biggest spy swap since the Cold War.
Butina’s return to Russia has sparked speculation that Paul Whelan, a former US Marine held in Russia since December last year on espionage charges, could also be sent home.
But there are no signs suggesting Whelan could be freed anytime soon.
His pre-trial detention was extended earlier this week until late December.