Butina, a 29-year-old gun-rights activist, served as a covert Russian agent while living in Washington, gathering intelligence on American officials and political organizations and working to establish back-channel lines of communications for the Kremlin, federal prosecutors charged Monday, July 16, 2018.
The two diplomats also "exchanged views on ways to develop the relationship between our countries with the objective of normalising them". Prosecutors said this past week that Butina began a romantic relationship with a US person who she used to access "an extensive network" of other influential Americans.
Anatoly Antonov, the Russian ambassador to the US, told a conference in Moscow on Friday that the allegations are groundless and that American authorities tried to "break her" and refused her consular visits for the first few days after her arrest, The Associated Press reported. On Thursday, the Russian foreign ministry announced a #FreeMariaButina campaign. Additionally, Nikolaev's son supported President Donald Trump's candidacy in the 2016 election, the Post reported, citing a person familiar with his son's activities, and Nikolaev himself was seen at the Trump International Hotel in Washington during Trump's inauguration, the newspaper said, citing two people aware of his presence.More news: Donald Trump is still defending his disastrous meeting with Vladimir Putin
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More: Who is Maria Butina? Prosecutors have said she was in contact with Russian operatives during her time in the U.S.
Butina, a gun rights activist, founded a pro-gun group in Russian Federation called Right to Bear Arms, which Butina told the Senate panel was the recipient of Nikolaev's funding, a person familiar with her testimony told the Post.
The timing of the charging announcement, however, came on the same day that a summit in Helsinki between Trump and Putin put a spotlight on accusations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.