Maria Butina
Personal details
Born (1988-11-10) November 10, 1988 (age 35)
Barnaul, Altai Krai, Russia

Maria Butina (Russian: Мария Бутина; born 10 November 1988) is a political activist[1] and the founder of the Right to Bear Arms, a Russian gun rights group.[2] At one time, she worked for Aleksandr Torshin, a former Russian senator belonging to Vladimir Putin’s political party and deputy governor of the Central Bank of Russia, with alleged ties to the Russian mafia. In recent years, Butina has developed extensive ties to conservative American political circles. As of 2018 Butina, Torshin, and Paul Erickson, an American political operative, are under investigation in the United States for their potential involvement in Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections; Torshin has also been the subject of a probe by the Federal Bureau of Investigations into whether the Russian government attempted to illegally funnel money to the NRA in order to help Donald Trump win the presidency.[3]

Personal life

Butina was born in Barnaul, Altai Krai, Russia, on 10 November 1988. Her mother was an engineer, and her father was an entrepreneur. In seventh grade, she ran for school mayor and came in second place. She studied political science at Altu State University (Russian: АлтГУ) and also received a teaching degree. At 19, she was elected to the Public Council of Altai Krai in the last direct election for the Council.[4][5][verification needed]

Career

Butina built a furniture business in her hometown in Siberia called "Homeliness" (Russian: политолог). In 2011, she moved to Moscow[6] and sold six of her seven furniture stores to start an advertising agency.[5][verification needed]

Also in 2011, Butina participated in the Youth Primaries organized by the Young Guard of United Russia, the youth wing of the United Russia party, the ruling political party of the Russian Federation,[7] and started working for Aleksandr Torshin, who was then a Senator in the Federation Council of Russia and a leading member of United Russia.[6]

Also in 2011, while still Torshin's assistant, Butina founded a gun-rights organization, Right to Bear Arms, and began traveling back and forth to the U.S., initially with Torshin.[6] In 2012, Butina and Torshin lobbied the Russian senate to expand gun rights.[8] Torshin became deputy governor of the Central Bank of Russia in January 2015, and she remained his assistant until May 2017.[9][2]

In 2015, Butina said Right to Bear Arms had 10,000 members and 76 offices in Russia.[10]

In 2017, Butina told The Washington Post that she never worked for the Russian government.[11]

Involvement in American politics

Torshin and Butina have established a cooperative relationship between the NRA and Right to Bear Arms. Torshin has been attending NRA annual meetings in the United States since at least 2011. Following the 2011 meeting then NRA President David Keene expressed his support for Torshin's "endeavors" and extended an invitation to the 2012 meeting.[12] Torshin also attended NRA annual meetings in 2012 and 2013.[10] Torshin has tweeted that he and Butina are the only two Russians he knows of who are lifetime NRA members.[10] Butina and Torshin attended the 2014 NRA annual meeting as special guests of former NRA president Keene.[9][13] Butina attended the Women's Leadership Luncheon at the 2014 meeting as a guest of former NRA president Sandy Froman.[11][13] Butina presented to then NRA president Jim Porter a plaque from Right to Bear Arms. Afterwards, she tweeted "Mission accomplished." As Keene's guest, Butina got to ring the NRA's Liberty Bell, saying, "To the right to bear arms for citizens of the whole world."[7]

In November 2013, Keene was a guest at the conference of the Right to Bear Arms in Moscow.[14] In 2015, a number of NRA officials attended Right to Bear Arms's annual gun conference in Russia. Among them were Keene, gun manufacturer and NRA first vice president Pete Brownell,[15] conservative American political operative Paul Erickson,[16] and Milwaukee County sheriff David Clarke. One of their hosts was Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who in 2014 was sanctioned following Russia's invasion of Ukraine by the White House. Clarke's trip cost $40,000, with all expenses paid by the NRA, Pete Brownell (an NRA board member and CEO of a gun-parts supply company) and Right to Bear Arms.[17][18][19] According to a disclosure Clarke filed, Right to Bear Arms paid $6,000 to cover his meals, lodging, transportation and other expenses.[6] During the meeting, Clarke met the Russian foreign minister and attended a conference at which Torshin spoke.[18][19]

Butina has developed extensive ties to conservative American politics. According to The Daily Beast, she has presented herself as a "Russian central bank staffer, a leading gun rights advocate, a 'representative of the Russian Federation,' a Washington, D.C., graduate student, a journalist, and a connection between Team Trump and Russia" in order to gain access to "high-level contacts" in Washington, D.C..[9] At the 2014 NRA annual meeting, Butina took selfies with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and former U. S. Senator and 2016 presidential candidate Rick Santorum. At the 2015 NRA annual meeting, she met Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and on July 13, 2015, she was present at the launch of Walker's 2016 presidential campaign.[7][20] In June 2015, four days before Trump announced his candidacy for president, Butina wrote an article for The National Interest, a conservative American international affairs magazine, urging better relations between the United States and Russia.[10] She wrote, "It may take the election of a Republican to the White House in 2016 to improve relations between the Russian Federation and the United States." Her biography in The National Interest failed to mention Butina still worked for the Russian government.[7] The next month, Butina attended FreedomFest, where Trump gave a speech, and asked him from the audience about ending U.S. sanctions against Russia, to which Trump replied, "I don't think you'd need the sanctions."[7][21]

In February 2016, Butina started a South Dakota business, Bridges LLC, with Erickson.[9][22] The company is described as “including but not limited to a consulting company”.[16] Later that year Erickson sent an email with the subject line "Kremlin Connection" to Trump campaign adviser Rick Dearborn, repeatedly asking Dearborn and then-Senator Jeff Sessions for advice on setting up a meeting between Trump and Putin at an annual NRA convention.[2][22] Butina hosted a birthday party attended by Erickson and Trump campaign aides shortly after the 2016 election.[10]

Butina, Torshin, and Erickson have been subjects of an investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections.[10][3] Torshin has also been the subject of a probe by the Federal Bureau of Investigations into whether the Russian government attempted to illegally funnel money to the NRA in order to help Trump win the presidency.[3]

References

  1. ^ Кожина, Наталья (January 4, 2012). Право на самооборону. Как защитить себя и не сесть в тюрьму | Защита прав человека и общественный контроль в ЮФО. твойконтроль.рф (in Russian). Retrieved 2018-03-26. ((cite web)): Invalid |script-title=: missing prefix (help)
  2. ^ a b c Fandos, Nicholas (December 3, 2017). "Operative Offered Trump Campaign 'Kremlin Connection' Using N.R.A. Ties". The New York Times.
  3. ^ a b c Stone, Peter; Gordon, Greg (January 18, 2018). "FBI investigating whether Russian money went to NRA to help Trump". McClatchyDC.
  4. ^ Мария Бутина [Maria Butina]. Молодежные праймериз 2011 (in Russian). ((cite web)): Invalid |script-title=: missing prefix (help)
  5. ^ a b Мостовщиков, Егор (April 17, 2014). Как создать оружейное лобби и не прогореть [How to create a weapons lobby and not burn out]. GQ Russia (in Russian). ((cite web)): |access-date= requires |url= (help); Invalid |script-title=: missing prefix (help); Missing or empty |url= (help)
  6. ^ a b c d Moscow Cozies Up to the Right
  7. ^ a b c d e Dickinson, Tim (April 2, 2018). "Inside the Decade-Long Russian Campaign to Infiltrate the NRA and Help Elect Trump". Rolling Stone. Retrieved April 7, 2018.
  8. ^ Ioffe, Julia (November 15, 2012). "The Rise of Russia's Gun Nuts". The New Republic.
  9. ^ a b c d Mak, Tim (February 23, 2017). "The Kremlin and GOP Have a New Friend—and Boy, Does She Love Guns". The Daily Beast.
  10. ^ a b c d e f Clifton, Denise; Follman, Mark (March 8, 2018). "The Very Strange Case of Two Russian Gun Lovers, the NRA, and Donald Trump". Mother Jones.
  11. ^ a b Helderman, Rosalind S.; Hamburger, Tom (April 30, 2017). "Guns and religion: How American conservatives grew closer to Putin's Russia". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 8, 2018.
  12. ^ In 2011 handwritten letter, NRA President offered help to Alexander Torshin for his “endeavors”
  13. ^ a b Pavlich, Katie (May 6, 2014). "Part 1: Meet the Woman Working With the NRA and Fighting For Gun Rights in Russia". Townhall. Retrieved April 8, 2018.
  14. ^ RollingStone, April 2, 2018, Inside the Decade-Long Russian Campaign to Infiltrate the NRA and Help Elect Trump
  15. ^ NRA on the Record
  16. ^ a b Incorporation document
  17. ^ "Bice: Sen. Tammy Baldwin says Sheriff David Clarke is being 'groomed' for Senate bid". Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. March 13, 2017.
  18. ^ a b Cliff Schecter (December 5, 2016). "How David Clarke Bridges Donald Trump's Gun Nuts and Vladimir Putin's Kleptocrats". The Daily Beast.
  19. ^ a b Rosalind S. Helderman & Tom Hamburger (April 30, 2017). "Guns and religion: How American conservatives grew closer to Putin's Russia".
  20. ^ Clifton, Denise; Follman, Mark (March 8, 2018). "The Very Strange Case of Two Russian Gun Lovers, the NRA, and Donald Trump". Mother Jones. Retrieved March 20, 2018.
  21. ^ Follman, Mark (March 9, 2018). "Trump Spoke to a Russian Activist About Ending Sanctions—Just Weeks After Launching His Campaign". Mother Jones.
  22. ^ a b Mak, Tim (March 1, 2018). "Depth Of Russian Politician's Cultivation Of NRA Ties Revealed". NPR.