Maria Butina
The Russian Foreign Ministry called the 18-month prison sentence for student Maria Butina a "politically motivated" decision "in the spirit of McCarthyism," adding that her only crime was being a Russian citizen in the US.

"From the moment of her arrest we have pointed out that the accusations against her of attempting to influence internal American political processes were completely contrived and fabricated," the ministry said in a statement on Friday. "Her confession, which was coerced through harsh imprisonment conditions and threats of a lengthy sentence, changes nothing."

Butina was sentenced on Friday to 18 months in prison and deportation from the US by a federal judge in Washington, DC. She was arrested by the FBI in June last year and charged with being an unregistered foreign agent. The nine months she has already spent in jail - much of it in solitary confinement - will count towards her sentence.

The American University graduate who sought to make connections with the National Rifle Association ended up pleading guilty in December to failing to register as an agent of the Russian government. Moscow has repeatedly said it had nothing to do with Butina, who prior to her studies in the US campaigned for American-style gun laws in Russia.

"Our compatriot's only crime was being a citizen of Russia. She became a victim of a bitter battle between political forces inside the US, and an unbridled anti-Russian campaign in the spirit of McCarthyism," the Foreign Ministry said on Friday, describing Butina's sentence as a "shameful stain on the American judicial system" that put itself in the service of a blatantly political agenda.

Butina's arrest came at the height of 'Russiagate' hysteria, as special counsel Robert Mueller investigated claims by Democrats that President Donald Trump and his campaign "colluded" with Russia during the 2016 US presidential election. Mueller's report, made public last week, found no collusion, but claimed - without evidence - that Russia did interfere in the election. Butina was not mentioned anywhere in its 448 pages.

Breathless media reports about Butina's indictment smeared her as a spy who traded sex for influence in order to embed herself into the US political establishment. That allegation persisted in the media even after prosecutors quietly dropped it and apologized for misreading one of her text messages.