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Russian gun group says US-accused founder not Kremlin 'agent'


AFP Moscow
Russian gun rights activists today denied their colleague Maria Butina, arrested in the US for conspiring to influence American politics, was a Kremlin agent.
Butina, 29, was accused by the US in early July of acting as an unregistered agent for Russia and exploiting her close links with the powerful US gun lobby group the National Rifle Association to infiltrate the US government.
Three associates of Butina, who founded pro-gun organisation in Moscow, told journalists she did not work for the Russian government.
"Maria's activity in the (two countries') gun movements had nothing to do with foreign policy," said Igor Shmelev, head of the Right to Bear Arms group she founded.
The group however had "some contact" with the NRA, whose representatives and their counterparts met in Moscow to "learn from each other's experiences," he added.
"They told us how the NRA works, how it's organised. We told them how we work," he said.
He stressed they did not "work together on any international issues".
Butina's friend Tim Kirby, a Russian-American living in Moscow who is also an NRA member and has worked for the Kremlin-funded channel RT, said Butina "adores" America.
"She wants to import US libertarianism... and especially its relationship with arms to Russia, and not export anything from Russia to the US," he said.
"She's a little bit naive and that might be one of the reasons this situation arose," he added.
Roman Khudyakov, a former Russian ultra-nationalist MP and member of the Right to Bear Arms group, rejected US allegations that Butina used sex to infiltrate lobby groups.
"She was friends with many men, with me, with other men, with men from all over the world," Khudyakov said, adding that she also had a husband and child in Russia.
According to US prosecutors, Butina "offered sex in exchange" for a job with a US lobby group.
They also alleged that she began a romantic relationship with a well-known Republican operative, not identified in the indictment but widely reported to be Paul Erickson, who is said to have helped open doors for her in Washington.
Butina's arrest has added to the political turmoil in Washington over Moscow's alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election and allegations that President Donald Trump's campaign collaborated with Russia.
The indictment charges that Butina's public activities masked the work of a "covert Russian agent" with a plan to spearhead Moscow's influence in Trump's Republican Party.
Her arrest was announced on the heels of a summit meeting between Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.
Moscow has called the arrest "unacceptable" and called for the release of Butina, who has been denied bail.

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First Published: Jul 31 2018 | 10:30 PM IST

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