As I suspected, Trump’s meeting with Putin did indeed turn out to be a damp squib, at least relative to the unrealistic expectations that all sorts of strongly ideological camps had built up around it.
Putin repeated his insistence that Russia did not meddle in the US elections, congratulated Trump on North Korea, acknowledged that the two countries need to be responsible about nuclear weapons, voiced his disagreement with the US withdrawal from the JCPOA, and repeated his customary boilerplate about how the Ukrainians need to stick with the Minsk Agreement. Trump, for his part, said that it was a productive meeting, congratulated Putin on a successful FIFA World Cup and on “bombing the hell out of ISIS”, and promised there would be further meetings.
So, all really banal stuff, really – even if the “Resistance” was in heavier than usual “zrada” mode about its denunciations of Trump as a traitor, as a puppet of Putler, and so forth.
However, the American Deep State let its feelings be known with actions, not just words: “Russian National Charged in Conspiracy to Act as an Agent of the Russian Federation Within the United States.”
A criminal complaint was unsealed today in the District of Columbia charging a Russian national with conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian Federation within the United States without prior notification to the Attorney General.
The announcement was made by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Jessie K. Liu, and Nancy McNamara, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.
Maria Butina, 29, a Russian citizen residing in Washington D.C., was arrested on July 15, 2018, in Washington, D.C., and made her initial appearance this afternoon before Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. She was ordered held pending a hearing set for July 18, 2018.
According to the affidavit in support of the complaint, from as early as 2015 and continuing through at least February 2017, Butina worked at the direction of a high-level official in the Russian government who was previously a member of the legislature of the Russian Federation and later became a top official at the Russian Central Bank. This Russian official was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control in April 2018.
The court filings detail the Russian official’s and Butina’s efforts for Butina to act as an agent of Russia inside the United States by developing relationships with U.S. persons and infiltrating organizations having influence in American politics, for the purpose of advancing the interests of the Russian Federation. The filings also describe certain actions taken by Butina to further this effort during multiple visits from Russia and, later, when she entered and resided in the United States on a student visa. The filings allege that she undertook her activities without officially disclosing the fact that she was acting as an agent of Russian government, as required by law.
In the Drumpf Truther segment of American society, Butina has attained minor notoriety as an agent of Russian influence. These conspiracy theories revolve around the Kremlin’s alleged links to the NRA, which Russiagaters allege is used as a conduit to fund Republican politicians. In some of the wilder fantasies floating around “Resistance” hives such as /r/politics, this is something that could be used to topple Trump, the GOP, and the NRA all in one go, ushering in a golden age of gender neutral bathrooms, abolition of freeze peach, and nuclear-assisted architectural redevelopment in Moscow.
Typical Facebook profile shot of Maria Butina.
However, in Russia itself, Maria Butina is known as one of the prime proponents of increased gun rights, and certainly its most telegenic one.
In 2011, Butina founded The Right to Bear Arms (Pravo na Oruzhie), the premier gun rights organization in Russia.
Maria Butina in a May 1, 2013 gun rights march with LDPR banners in the background. Gun rights liberalization is a demand of many Russian nationalist organizations, though it does not enjoy the support of the political elites.
Right to Bear Arms has carried out public protests for gun rights in Russia, conducted educational seminars, lobbied for a Russian version of the Second Amendment, providing free legal defense for people facing criminal charges for self-defense, and has promoted “castle doctrine” laws to replace the criminal-friendly laws currently in place in Russia, as in most of Europe.
Since these policies are very much in line with what the NRA works to promote in US, there is nothing particularly sinister about Right to Bear Arms having contacts with the American organization; contacts which the American MSM are “discovering” even as I write this. Incidentally, if you happen to be a Blue Checkmark who’s reading this, feel free to also mention that Right to Bear Arms also joined the European gun rights lobbying organization Firearms United in 2014, and cite it as yet more evidence of Putler’s meddling in Western democracies. You’re welcome.
Incidentally, as per a 2012 article by our good friend Julia Ioffe (whose title – “The Rise of Russia’s Gun Nuts” – betrays the unsurprising fact that she doesn’t exactly share her convictions), Maria Butina is a big fan of the United States:
This summer, the group successfully defended a woman named Tatyana Kudryavtseva who fought off a rapist with a knife and accidentally killed him. She faced 15 years in jail for homicide; Right to Bear Arms got her exonerated. “If she had had a gun, it would have been enough just to show the gun, as American statistics show,” says Butina, who is a fan of statistics in general and American statistics in particular. …
Incidentally, the rapist in question was an Uzbek immigrant, a minor detail that Ioffe conveniently leaves out of her hit piece – but which does reflect one major reason why gun rights are popular in Russian nationalist circles.
The world, as Butina sees it, is both inherently savage and inhabited by people who behave rationally at all times— especially criminals. “A person may decide not to commit a crime if he thinks he may be shot or may encounter resistance,” Butina said. As proof, she pointed to America’s permissive attitude toward gun ownership. “If we take the number of homicides per one hundred thousand people in the population, according to our police statistics, it’s thirteen homicides in Russia, and 5.2 in the U.S.”
Of course, homicide rates are lower still in countries with stricter gun laws. But Butina doesn’t flinch when challenged on her statistics; she simply summons more statistics. “People online take facts from my blog, turn them upside and scream, ‘Just look at this! In the States, thirty thousand people die from firearms every year! How awful!’” she scoffed. “But so what? Switzerland has the most suicides using a gun, and yet, Switzerland has the least number of total suicides. Moreover, a gun is the most humane weapon for suicide compared to all the other methods that exist.”
This particular strand of Americanophilia, which is entirely alien to the American Blue Checkmark class, does not necessarily translate into opposition politics – Maria Butina herself votes for Putin and United Russia, and her ideological fellow travelers in Russia tend to be right-wing social conservatives and nationalists, whose relations with Putin are actually rather complex. However, it does represent a distinct aspect of Russian nationalism, many of whose proponents admire certain aspects of American culture, such as its powerful capitalist economy, unapologetic “boot in your ass” patriotism, Constitutional protection of free speech, and its admittedly waning, but nonetheless not yet vanished, frontier spirit of asperity – after all, Russia’s Cossacks were America’s cowboys.
(My regular readers will be aware of such thinking though our translations of Russian nationalist Egor Kholmogorov, and it is even more pronounced amongst younger Russian nationalists, such as the ones in the Sputnik & Pogrom crowd. Incidentally, speaking of Sputnik & Pogrom – a nationalist-learning journal that has been blocked in Russia for criticizing Putin once too many times – Maria Butina even once published an article there, a statistics-heavy demolition of positive myths about Soviet demographics).
That said, Right to Bear Arms has no explicit ideology, and has reached out to all sorts of unlikely constituencies. For instance, in 2014, Butina launched the campaign, “Communists abolished gun rights, and they will also return them! 1918-2014” by posting a petition to that effect on the website of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (the context being that whereas the Russian Empire had liberal gun laws, the Bolsheviks introduced a law demanding the people hand in their rifles, revolvers, and ammunition in 1918, a few months after usurping power).
Even so, there’s no particular evidence that Butina’s support for Putin is reciprocated to any significant extent:
Along the way, she gained a powerful ally in Alexander Torshin, a high-ranking member of United Russia and the first deputy speaker of the Russian senate. Torshin is also a member of the NRA, which he told me he admires because it stands for “stability”—the credo of Putin’s reign.
On July 24, the pair made their case for gun rights before the senate. However, their appearance came only four days after James Holmes mowed down dozens of people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. This fortified the view of many Russian senators, Torshin said, that, if Russians had handguns, they would all shoot each other. “How can you have so little trust for yourself, for your people?” he lamented. …
The major obstacle for Butina and her group is Putin. Never mind that he himself is an avid outdoorsman. Behind closed doors, Putin seems to have put forth the position that his surrogates are vocalizing: It is too soon, and too dangerous. [Russian liberal politician] Gudkov has a different explanation: “He’s afraid of his own people.”
For her part, Butina denies that an armed populace would threaten the Putin regime. “The right to bear arms is given to you by your government and is a nice right to have,” she reasoned, “so taking some kind of anti-government stand … .” She trailed off to indicate that doing so would be the height of rashness. Plus, she pointed out, “pistols are the absolute worst weapon for toppling a government, let me tell you.”
It is a most hilarious irony that Maria Butina’s very last post on her defunct Russophone LiveJournal blog was a complaint that one of her blog posts had gotten blocked by Russian state censorship agency Roskomnadzor for “containing information that is forbidden in the Russian Federation.” In that post, which dates to June 5, 2018, she also announced that she was closing her blog, since she considered further censorship inevitable. This illustrates the banal and depressing reality that I have also commented upon at length: The gray bureaucrats, spies, and policemen who run Russia are decidedly uninterested in neither the First nor the Second Amendment, with “overly enthusiastic” promotion of gun rights, as with nationalism, meant “for export” only.
In the meantime, Butina’s main political sponsor, Russian Senator Alexander Torshin – who shares her pro-gun stances, and similarly had “ties” with the NRA – had left politics to become State Secretary/Vice Deputy of the Central Bank of Russia in 2015. This is only about the 10th highest position within the CBR, and actually represents a resumption of his status when he last worked there in 1995-98. While Torshin brought her on as an assistant there, she formally left that position in May 2017.
This happened in the context of Butina settling into life in the US after 2015, which is when she appears to have begun living there at least semi-permanently. During this period, she got involved in business with US conservative operative Paul Erickson, participated in American civic life (mostly to do with Russian relations, gun rights, and conservative politics – which were, understandably, her main interests), and had recently finished an International Relations degree at the American University in Washington D.C. This might be suspicious if this were not a mirror reflection of her high-achieving life decade in Russia. She had studied Political Science at Altai State University, made considerable money via a chain of furniture stores she had build up and sold, and participated in the youth wing of United Russia and right-wing networking, which is what netted her Alexander Torshin, her main sponsor.
As I finish this article, news of Butina’s arrest is the most upvoted item in /r/politics (the world’s premier forum for Trump Derangement Syndrome sufferers), and the second most upvoted item in /r/worldnews (probably the world’s premier Anglophone forum for international affairs discussions). Tomorrow, her name will be plastered across American and European newspapers.
And yet at the end of the day, her “Kremlin Connection” consists of a mid-level Russian conservative politician who happens to have attended a few NRA conventions and hosted a few NRA delegations before Russian-American relations went into the gutter, who then left politics to return to his former life as a central bank official.
Bearing this in mind, here is the Occam’s Razor explanation of Maria Butina’s escapades:
(1) Maria Butina is a gal who loves money, politics, and guns.
(2) She was settling down in the US, because at least the guns and politics part (including conservative politics) are far easier and more fun to pursue in America than in Russia.
(3) Since she is presumably still a Russian patriot, a Putin supporter, and an Americanophile, she would have naturally loved for the US and Russia to get along.
Thinking ambitiously, this might have also held out the prospect of an extension of American soft power – that is, what she would see as its wholesome, conservative element – into Russian politics. If this scenario had panned out, she might even have become… an “American agent” in Russia.
(4) Trump was the only Presidential candidate talking of improving relations with Russia – and he was a honest to goodness nationalist to boot!
(5) And her trump card into American politics? Her “Kremlin Connection.” Even though Torshin is nowhere near Putin’s inner circle.
Unfortunately, there was also a sixth part that she failed to account for:
(6) The US is also substantially run by gray bureaucrats, spies, and policemen – the Deep State – and they need to keep the Russiagate narrative going at any cost, since they have invested so much into it.
Consequently, I am pretty sure that Maria Butina is now regretting playing her trump card very much, as opposed to getting the hell out of dodge as soon as Trump was elected.
Even so, if the above account is basically correct, consider for a moment what it implies about the state of American politics.
We have a Deep State that is so invested in its demented campaign against Trump that it is willing to imprison human rights activists and supporters of American values in pursuit of its objectives.
If this isn’t cause to fire Rosenstein, I don’t know what is.
Meanwhile, what could Russia do? Well, one powerful dominance move on Putin’s part would be to liberalize gun rights in Russia, perhaps under a “Butina Law.” Apart from increasing the liberties and security of ordinary Russian citizens, which may not be of the highest priority for many in the Kremlin, this would also offer a range of more tangible benefits.
First, by occupying a major Schelling point of global conservatism, it would reinforce Putin’s conservative credentials in the international sphere. Let’s be clear, Putin isn’t getting a pardon from neoliberalism.txt anytime soon, so he might as well go the full nine yards.
Second, it would help highlight American Deep State hypocrisy, and set American conservatives even further against the Blue Checkmark globalist elites, who are so consumed by Trump/Putin Derangement Syndrome that they would construct a fake case against a Russian champion of American values such as the 2nd Amendment in their pursuit of absolute power.
Failing that, one would at least hope that the Russian government denounces Butina’s imprisonment, and vigorously lobbies for her release. Consider tit for tat measures. It’s likely that any number of foreign journalists are American agents to a far greater extent than Butina was a Russian agent.