in CyrillicGun play: The rise and fall of ’s wannabe Russian NRA

Maria Butina’s motives, movements, and connections have become a subject of intense scrutiny and debate, and have resulted in a diplomatic standoff with Moscow. But her sudden emergence seven years ago — at the age of 22 — as a well-connected gun-rights activist also caught many off guard in , where the gun issue has long been on the political fringe.

Ahead of the December 2011 parliamentary elections in Russia that triggered street protests over alleged fraud, veteran opposition politician Vladimir Milov says he was contacted by a then obscure group asking to speak at an antigovernment rally he was planning.

The group had formed earlier that year under the name Right to Bear Arms and was lobbying for an end to the country’s ban on pistols and revolvers.

“It was a mystery, basically, where they came from. But initially, you know, we were not really too suspicious because they were like many different small groups appearing here and there,” Milov, a longtime advocate for greater gun rights, told RFE/RL.

The collaboration did not go as planned, according to Milov. He says the Right to Bear Arms representative ignored the requirement that speakers at the rally denounce Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government, instead focusing exclusively on the gun issue.

“They said, ‘No, no, no, we’re not about politics. We’re only about gun rights. So essentially our response was: ‘What in the hell are you doing with us here?’” Milov said.

In the years that followed, the group’s leader, Maria Butina, would proceed to build connections with one of the most powerful political lobbies in the United States — the National Rifle Association (NRA), which has ties to the Republican Party.

Her foray into American politics, however, ultimately led to her arrest in Washington this month on charges of illegally acting as a Russian agent on U.S. soil.

Butina’s motives, movements, and connections have become a subject of intense scrutiny and debate, and have resulted in a diplomatic standoff with Moscow.

But her sudden emergence seven years ago — at the age of 22 — as a well-connected gun-rights activist also caught many off guard in Russia, where the gun issue has long been on the political fringe.

“No one took her seriously at first,” Vyacheslav Vaneyev, the most recent deputy head of Right to Bear Arms, told RFE/RL.



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