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Lavrov urges immediate release of Russian woman jailed in US on 'fabricated charges'

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has rejected "fabricated charges" against a Russian woman arrested in the United States on accusations of acting as a government agent, saying she should be freed immediately.

In a phone call to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday, Lavrov said the arrest of Maria Butina, a gun enthusiast, on espionage charges was "unacceptable," Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) said in a press release on Monday that Butina had been charged “with conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian Federation within the United States without prior notification to the Attorney General,” through establishing relationships and infiltrating organizations that had influence in US politics.

The DOJ alleged that Butina, 29, who studied at American University in Washington and is a founder of the pro-gun Russian advocacy group Right to Bear Arms, had acted with “the purpose of advancing the interests of the Russian Federation” at the direction of a “high-level” Russian official, who was not named in reports.

A US judge on Wednesday ordered Butina to be jailed until her trial.

Lavrov said American authorities had arrested Butina "on the basis of fabricated charges,” according to the statement.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that Butina's arrest in the US was a deliberate attempt to undermine a meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Donald Trump held in Helsinki, Finland, on July 16.

Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova added that Butina’s detention, which took place a day before the summit, had no grounds and was meant to affect the positive outcome of the summit.

The statement further noted that Lavrov and Pompeo also discussed ways to improve Moscow-Washington relations on "equal and mutually beneficial grounds" after the meeting between the two countries' leaders.

The US and Russian presidents hailed their summit in Helsinki, saying they would build up on the meeting to have more dialogue in the future.

“This was a very constructive day, a very constructive few hours we spent together,” Trump said at a joint press conference with Putin after the meeting. “I’m sure we’ll be meeting again in the future, often."

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Lavrov and Pompeo also discussed possible joint efforts aimed at improving Syria’s humanitarian situation as well as the "challenges" of Korean Peninsula denuclearization.


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