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Russian Embassy officials to meet suspected spy Maria Butina jailed in U.S.

Russian Embassy officials were to meet Thursday with a Siberian gun rights activist jailed in Washington on charges of spying on the United States, as Moscow blasted the arrest as "anti-Russian hysteria." The embassy said in a Facebook post that consular officials will meet with Maria Butina for the first time since her Sunday arrest, and will provide her "all necessary help."

Сообщение для СМИ Сотрудники Посольства России в Вашингтоне посетили состоявшееся в суде округа Колумбия очередное...

Posted by Embassy of Russia in the USA / Посольство России в США on Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Butina, 29, denies wrongdoing, and the Russian government claims the arrest was driven by U.S. domestic politics and an overall anti-Russian mood.

U.S. federal prosecutors accuse Butina of being a covert Russian agent, having contacts with the KGB successor agency FSB, and using sex and deception to forge influential U.S. connections.

Handout photo of accused Russian agent Maria Butina shown sitting at a table with a suspected Russian Intel Operative in a restaurant, according to court documents, in a FBI surveillance photo

Accused Russian agent Maria Butina is shown sitting at a table with a suspected Russian intelligence operative in a restaurant, according to court documents, in a FBI surveillance photo provided July 18, 2018.

HANDOUT / REUTERS

Court documents released at her hearing Wednesday outlined ways Butina allegedly worked covertly to establish back-channel lines of communication to the Kremlin and infiltrate U.S. political organizations, including the National Rifle Association.

Her father, Valery Butin, said the family has been unable to speak to Butina since her arrest, according to the TASS news agency.

Butina grew up in a modest apartment building in the Siberian city of Barnaul, closer to the Mongolian and Kazakh borders than Moscow.

One of her former teachers told The Associated Press that Butina initially thought she would follow her father's footsteps as an entrepreneur, and opened a string of furniture stores.

But she developed an appetite for high-level politics after going to a special camp for young political hopefuls run by the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, said Konstantin Emeshin, founder of the School of Real Politics in Barnaul, where Butina got her first degree.

"She came back inspired, having met lots of people," he said.

Butina later moved to Moscow, started a gun-rights group, and then moved to the United States where she got a graduate degree in May from American University. U.S. prosecutors say her studies were a cover for her covert activities.

Emeshin said that Butina was considering a job in Silicon Valley after graduation, and told him she felt herself "at a crossroads."

A week before her arrest, Emeshin said, she contacted him on Facebook and asked for the contacts of specialists who defend "victims of political repression." She didn't elaborate. Butina had already been questioned by the U.S. Senate and had her apartment searched by the FBI in recent months.

Butina awaits trial on charges of conspiracy and acting as an unregistered foreign agent for Russia. She pleaded not guilty Wednesday, but was ordered held in jail as the case moves forward because of fears she would flee the country.