#FreeMariaButina: Russian foreign ministry pushes for release of accused spy

Click to play video: 'Russian agent Maria Butina was at 2015 conference attended by Trump' Russian agent Maria Butina was at 2015 conference attended by Trump
WATCH: Accused Russian agent Maria Butina was at 2015 conference attended by Trump – Jul 19, 2018

The Russian Foreign Ministry has started a Twitter hashtag to campaign for the release of Maria Butina, the 29-year-old Russian citizen who the U.S. Justice Department accuses of being a spy.

A U.S. judge ordered the former American University graduate student jailed pending trial on Wednesday, after prosecutors warned that her alleged ties to Russian intelligence make her a flight risk.

READ MORE: Alleged Russian spy Maria Butina offered sex in exchange for influence, say prosecutors

The #FreeMariaButina hashtag was launched by the foreign ministry’s official Twitter account Thursday afternoon, with Butina’s face also made the account’s profile picture.

Butina is accused of working with a Russian intelligence official and two unidentified Americans to infiltrate a pro-gun rights organization and influence U.S. foreign policy towards Russia.

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Prosecutors alleged she used sex and deception to forge influential connections, working covertly to infiltrate organizations including the National Rifle Association, gather intelligence and establish back-channel lines of communication to the Kremlin.

She has denied any wrongdoing.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the Russian government was “dismayed” at Butina’s arrest, which she said was politically motivated and designed to “sabotage” U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent summit with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

“As we understand it, the order came from those who continue to stir up Russophobic hysteria, for which purpose they regularly plant more fictional sensations about Russia’s alleged interference in the internal affairs of the United States,” Zakharova said in a statement.

“It appears that somebody took a watch, a calculator and timed when the decision on Maria Butina’s arrest should be taken in order to do as much as possible to sabotage the results of the summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump. This is how good the timing was.”

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READ MORE: Who is Maria Butina, the gun activist charged with spying for Russia?

Russian Embassy officials were expected to meet Butina on Thursday for the first time since her arrest, the embassy said in a Facebook post.

— With files from the Associated Press

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