Maria Butina, a Russian agent who tried to infiltrate America's NRA gun lobby and influence its politics, has been jailed for 18 months by a US federal court. It ruled she should be deported home after completing time.
US District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan told Butina on sentencing Friday that the jail term was intended as a deterrent to others who might consider spying.
"This was no simple misunderstanding by an overeager foreign student," Chutkan said.
Butina, a 30-year-old graduate of a Washington university had pleaded guilty last December of conspiring to act as a foreign agent by gathering intelligence on the National Rifle Association (NRA) and conservative US activists and Republicans.
Read more: Maria Butina: lobbyist and Kremlin spy?
At Friday's sentencing, Butina asked the court for mercy, saying she was "deeply sorry" and was "now a convicted felon with no job, no money," after completing three degrees.
She felt "ashamed and embarrassed" by her own actions, she said. "I'm not this evil person depicted in the media."
Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced the ruling as "arbitrary."
"We don't understand why she was sentenced," he said.
Russia's foreign ministry said "our countrywomen was sentenced only because she is a citizen of Russia."
Not a trained agent
US prosecutors had stressed that Butina was not a trained Russian intelligence agency officer but had briefed a Russian official while posing in Washington as the leader of a small Russian gun advocacy group.
The information gleaned had the potential to "damage the national security of the United States," prosecutors had said in a memo.
US Justice Department officials had said Butina worked with the Russian official and two Americans to try to infiltrate the NRA, a lobby group with ties to Republicans including US President Donald Trump, and had tried to influence American foreign policy toward Russia.
Unrelated to Mueller probe
The case appears to be unrelated to US Special Counsel Robert Muellers's probe into Russian interference in the 2016 US election documented in a redacted version of his report published last week.
Chutkan said the nine months already spent inside since her arrest last July would be credited and Butina would be deported on completing the 18-month sentence.
ipj/ng (Reuters, AFP, AP)