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The Latest: Russian spokeswoman blames US attitudes

MOSCOW (AP) — The Latest on the deportation of a convicted Russian agent from the U.S. (all times local): 12:50 p.m. Russia's foreign ministry spokeswoman says Maria Butina, who returned to Moscow on Saturday after serving a sentence in the United States for being a covert agent, is a victim of entrenched anti-Russian attitudes.

"This is what, unfortunately, the previous U.S. administration started — trying to destroy the bilateral relationship," Maria Zakharova told reporters at Sheremetyevo airport after Butina arrived. 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.

Butina, 30, admitted that she and a former Russian lawmaker worked to leverage contacts in the National Rifle Association to pursue back channels to American conservatives. "She really did no harm to anybody. She's just a girl, she's just a young woman. She tried to invest her youth, if you wish, her gift, her talent, into people-to-people contacts," Zakharova said.

12:25 p.m.

Maria Butina, convicted in the United States for acting as a covert agent for Russia, has arrived in Moscow a day after being released from detention.

In brief comments to journalists in the arrivals area of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport on Saturday, Butina expressed "great thanks" to those who had supported her since her arrest in July 2018.

Butina, a former American University graduate student, pleaded guilty last December to conspiring to act as an unregistered agent for Russia. She admitted that she and a former Russian lawmaker worked to leverage contacts in the National Rifle Association to pursue back channels to American conservatives. 

11:55 a.m.

A flight bringing convicted Russian agent Maria Butina from the United States has landed in Moscow.

The Aeroflot plane from Miami touched down Saturday at Sheremetyevo airport shortly before 11:30 a.m., according to the airport's online arrivals board.

Butina, a gun rights activist who sought to infiltrate conservative U.S. political groups and promote Russia's agenda around the time that Donald Trump rose to power, was released Friday from a low-security facility in Florida. She had been in custody since her arrest in July 2018.

The former American University graduate student pleaded guilty last December to conspiring to act as an unregistered agent for Russia. She admitted that she and a former Russian lawmaker worked to leverage contacts in the National Rifle Association to pursue back channels to American conservatives.

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