Russian national Maria Butina, who was jailed in the United States in April after admitting to working as a Russian agent, has arrived in Moscow.
The 30-year old flew into Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on Saturday, a day after her release from prison in Florida, and was greeted by her father and journalists who handed her flowers.
“I didn’t give up because I know I simply didn’t have the right,” Butina told reporters. “Russians don’t surrender!”
Butina was arrested in July 2018 on allegations of engaging in espionage. In December, she pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to act as a foreign agent for Russia by infiltrating a gun rights group and influencing US conservative activists and Republicans.
She was sentenced to 18 months in prison, half of which was credited as already served. She was held at Florida’s Tallahassee prison.
Her case further strained the US-Russian relations, prompting Moscow to accuse Washington of forcing the graduate student, to confess to what it described as ridiculous charges.
“I am very happy to be home. I am very grateful to everybody who supported me, to the Russian citizens who helped me and wrote letters,” Butina said on Saturday.
“Many thanks to the foreign ministry and to the diplomats who daily fought my corner,” she added, as her father and foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova escorted her through arrivals.
In an interview with state media during her flight home, Butina insisted on her innocence and called for action over the “outrage that happened to me”.
Zakharova said Butina was the victim of entrenched anti-Russian attitudes.
Since the election of President Donald Trump, Russian officials have consistently blamed troubled relations on so-called “Russophobia” carried over from the administration of President Barack Obama.
The Russian foreign ministry had made her into a cause celebre, placing a picture of her with the word “Free Butina” at the top of its social media pages.
The Butina case captivated public attention in the US because it unfolded around the same time as special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Moscow’s interference in the 2016 US election, even though the two probes were entirely separate.
It also led to scrutiny of the political dealings of the powerful NRA.
Her lawyers said on Friday that she was not a spy and that the case had nothing to do with espionage or election interference. They cast the crime as more technical than substantive.