Several countries around the world learned about student Maria Butina after she was arrested in the United States in July 2018. The Russian woman was accused of participating in a conspiracy to conduct activities in favor of the Russian government on American territory, and she was also accused of not registering as a foreign agent. In December 2018, Butina made a deal with the investigation and partially pleaded guilty. In April 2019, a federal court in Washington sentenced a Russian woman to 18 months in prison. On October 26 last year, Butina was released and deported to Russia.
Throughout her imprisonment, the Russian woman kept a diary. The notes formed the basis of her book "The Prison Diary". The book published by AST will go on sale in November 2020.
- Maria, tell us how you kept a diary in prison? What difficulties did you face?
- In the very first place where I was held - it was the Washington detention center, I was given a small shaft from a pen. This was my greatest treasure . I wrote on absolutely everything - on the back of court documents, on the forms that were issued in prison for various complaints - no one considered or resolved my complaints anyway, so for me it was a valuable piece of paper. Well, everything that was at hand, sorry, and toilet paper was in use. Therefore, wherever I could write, I wrote.
I was able to get a real pen only after a month - in my case, apparently, it was believed that I could use it as a weapon. Therefore, a special document from the head of the prison was required to authorize an ordinary ballpoint pen. But, fortunately, my attorneys, working with our consuls, managed to get a pen.
- Weren't you afraid that the records will be seized and used against you?
- By the time of release, 1200 pages of diary entries had accumulated. Some of them I immediately handed over to my lawyers - literally one piece at a time - I was afraid that they would be confiscated. Some of them I had to send by mail. I was very worried that they would be read, confiscated, etc., so I used an encryption system.
People think that the encryption system is when they scribble. Of course it is not. In fact, this is just an allegorical language, no one canceled it. You describe some ordinary things from everyday life, but in fact, under them are the names of agents, some events.
- Did you manage to save all the records?
- We managed to save almost all the records. A number of my diaries were lost somewhere, but not many. When I started deciphering, I found that the pages were not in a row. I still lost a number of pages, but this did not prevent me from reconstructing the complete picture of events.
- How did the idea of writing a book come about?
- My grandfather kept diaries all his life. When he died in 2011, I inherited his diary entries as an inheritance. Before his death, he told me that he hoped that I would be the family chronicler, so to speak. It was a big credit for me.
And, in fact, I kept diaries even before my imprisonment. Unfortunately, they are now in the FBI archives. They confiscated four huge notebooks of my diaries during the two years that I lived in America. Unfortunately, I only managed to get back my grandfather's diary, which is a very dear thing for me. I took it with me to America as an example, as a reminder that I should keep diary entries. I managed to repulse it, but, unfortunately, my diaries did not. I’m afraid I’ll never see them again. But I read them in the interrogation cell, translated into English.
- Is this a book about emotions or facts?
- Rather, about the facts. I wanted to convey a true story. She describes not so much day after day in prison. This is a quest that is divided into stages - first prison, second prison. There are elements of everyday life, but there the whole story is revealed - how I studied, lived in America, there are flashbacks from the memory of people who played a key role in my business. So I go through the whole story. This is not just a book about emotions, although, of course, some of my arguments are there too.
- They say that the book contains a fragment about Vladimir Putin. It's true?
- Yes. This is a certain part of my memories, a true part. And in a certain way, in my opinion, she explains why it happened that Vladimir Vladimirovich several times spoke in my defense.
- Was it difficult for you to relive what happened to you again?
- Certainly. The fact is that I wrote a book while in self-isolation. On the one hand, it was a great blessing for me, because I got from one isolation to another. I could not go to my parents because of the pandemic. So I was locked at home, I was decrypting and typing my book on the computer. From the first to the last word in it, these are my words. There were no scribes who wrote for me.
But on the other hand, it was difficult. In order to write everything the way it was, I had to relive the events. And this, of course, was very difficult. My parents are aware of this, I spoke with them while writing the book. This was hard. It feels like she was there again.
- What audience is your book intended for? What is its main message?
- My book is for any person. The moral is two things. The first - do not excuse yourself from the bag and from the prison. Second, each person sees what he chooses to see. There were many difficult moments that I describe in my imprisonment, but for the most part this book is about hope, about light and faith, which can be found even in the darkest time, even in the most terrible prison cell. We cannot change what is happening to us. But we can change our attitude towards what happened.
The whole country stood for me, and I had no right to surrender. This book is about that. How to go through the difficulties that everyone has. I do not think that I had the worst thing that could happen - someone's relatives and friends get sick and die, and this is much worse. Therefore, I think that this book will help those who find themselves in a difficult life situation, and my advice may be useful to him.
- Tell us about the most memorable moment from prison described in the book?
- One of the most emotionally bright moments from prison, described in the book, I will say so in a veiled way - this is not a difficult moment, it, on the contrary, a moment when, amid the horror of the prison, those prisoners who were with me helped me a lot - especially blacks. They decided to give me a gift for my religious holiday. I will not disclose the details, but I looked from everything from the other side to especially dangerous prisoners, whom, to be honest, I must have secretly condemned. And then I was very ashamed that I judged these people.
- Do you plan to film the book?
- I am negotiating and open to suggestions. Because I want what happened to be conveyed, of course, it will be in an artistic form, but still as close to reality as possible. I think that we will come to some kind of consensus with someone. For me, the most important thing is that we should be ideologically close with the person who will be involved in the adaptation of my book.
- Let's now talk about what your book would not be without. Why do you think you ended up in the dock?
- It was definitely a political matter. The Americans just needed to find, so to speak, a scapegoat on which to hang all the existing problems. You know that a very active scandal was developing there, connected with the alleged interference of Russia in the elections, and they just had to find the culprit. Moreover, these problems are internal, American. Neither I nor Russia have anything to do with these problems. This is an internal showdown of the American establishment. Moreover, the showdown is much deeper than we see during the presidential campaign. Many people call this the Deep State, or the Deep State. But this is a topic for a separate conversation, even, I think, for a separate book. I really talked a lot with representatives of the American establishment to understand how complicated everything is inside.
- Was there anything in the case against you that was true?
- Certainly. From what we see in the press today, there is a lot of speculation, but there are also truthful things. I also talk about them in my book. Something guessed, of course.
- The media wrote that you pleaded guilty so that you would not be given a long sentence. Was that so, or were there other reasons?
- It's much more difficult. The thing is that the question of confessing my guilt for me was as follows: I was left to blame for the conspiracy, nobody else was involved in my case - this situation suited me perfectly. So by taking on this blame, I did the best I could do. It was important for me that no further speculations were put forward on this matter. And I consider my goal achieved. I would have been sentenced anyway, I perfectly understood that, but if it was possible to stop the repressive machine against other people by pleading guilty, I would do it again .
- And if you go back to the past. Would you change anything in your life knowing that a case would be brought against you?
- Yes. After the first search, it was in April 2018 - this is unknown to the press, I write about it in a book - I would have gone to the embassy, but, unfortunately, I did not do it. They would help me there. But you cannot erase words from a song, everything that is done is for the better - even such tests are not given to us in vain.
- But after these first searches, were you still ready for further developments, arrest?
- It seems to me that you are never ready for the fact that you can be arrested. But no, I didn’t know at all, but they gave me permission to undergo an internship and extended my visa. I thought everything was fine. Therefore, it was a bolt from the blue - for me. But as a whole it turned out, no. It was a series of planned actions. Analyzing later, it is clearly visible.
- What was your real purpose of the trip to the USA?
- I studied. Indeed, she studied. Graduated from the magistracy, received a master's degree in international relations, specialization in cybersecurity - diploma with honors. I worked at the department, received permission to undergo industrial practice - this also extended my visa for a year. After that I was arrested.
- Why did you choose the USA for training?
- I speak English fluently. Indeed, education in the states is different from ours. I wanted to see how it works. Of course, there are pluses and minuses in both our education system and their education system. These are fundamentally different approaches to learning.
- Did you plan to stay in the states for a long time after graduation?
- No, I wanted to do an internship. That is, getting a job there in my specialty would make me a more sought-after specialist in my homeland.
But mentally America doesn't suit me. It was very difficult for me to adapt to the American way of life. There are people who easily adapt to moving across the Atlantic. Russia and the United States are on, so to speak, opposite sides of approaches to the human order. We are, after all, collectivists in a certain sense and inclined towards a welfare state. Americans are liberals and individualists. This is a different concept. In order, for example, to change it, one would have to completely abandon one's homeland, say that everything that came before was bad. I didn’t do it, I always spoke in support of my country, and such people are not needed in America .
- In your opinion, could representatives of Russia or the United States use you for their own ends?
- The representatives of the USA used me for their own ends. I also talk about this in my book. Yes, there was, unfortunately, a person who, so to speak, found how to use me in his financial frauds. But read about it in my book.
- What about Russia?
- There were no such people in Russia. I have never received any money from Russia. Naturally, she did not conduct any activities under the control of the Russian government.
- Who testified against you in the case? What kind of relationship did you have with this person?
- In my book I say who was the so-called patient number 0. That is, this is the person who started it all. We had a personal relationship with him, a fairly deep spiritual connection. And what he did, I forgive him. As, as a matter of fact, and all the defendants who even made it out of the ordinary in my case.
But I can say that today he is under criminal prosecution, and the American authorities will certainly not forgive him for his position. He issued a statement in support of me after I was sentenced, told how he worked for the FBI, but the American government did not appreciate it.
- The media wrote that the judge apologized to you. For what and under what circumstances?
- A bit wrong. The prosecutor's office apologized to me for the accusations against me that I offered sex for power. They did apologize, and they did it publicly. They said they misinterpreted my messages they were translating and took back their words. However, it didn't change my picture in any way, because my reputation was completely destroyed.
As for the judge, the judge pointed this out to the prosecutor's office, made a remark to her, said: “Sorry, you shouldn't behave like that, because it took me five minutes to understand that you not only misinterpreted, but also purposefully did it”.
- There was a lot of attention to your case in Russia, in particular, high-ranking officials appealed to the United States with a request to release you. Why do you think so much attention was paid to your person?
- Because it was a blatant case. Outrageous injustice. I was a political prisoner. The attitude that was applied to me in prisons, the way they tortured me, mocked me - I think that my country simply could not remain indifferent. Russia also comes forward on other occasions. I think my case was just very striking. It was probably difficult to remain indifferent in this case. But here, of course, my family plays a big role. My dad was very active in pedaling this situation in the press. I think this role was very important.
- What would you do in the United States in those years if you had not been arrested?
- I would have completed my cybersecurity internship as I wanted. Although, generally speaking, I received permission, which indicated that I would work as an assistant professor at the department, doctor of sciences. That is, in the future, my scientific activities were planned for some time. But that was not destined to happen. I will never go to the USA again.
- When I returned to Moscow, I was given a document where it is written that for me the ban on entering the United States is lifelong. But also not to say that I really want to go there.
I treat Americans as a people very well, I have few, few, but, nevertheless, loyal friends who supported me during this difficult time. This is my close friend, American writer James Bamford , of course, my lawyers, who initially took the case, not realizing that they would have any money for it at all - they worked completely free, did everything possible so that I could be released ... Many thanks to George O'Neill who supported me.
But I have an extremely negative attitude towards America as a state, as a state machine, because I believe that this is a totalitarian system, and I am very sorry for the Americans as a people .
Once, in an interview with the American television channel 60 Minutes, I was asked if I was afraid to become an instrument of Russian propaganda. I said that I dream of becoming an instrument of propaganda, but only an American one - so that through me the Americans finally learn what is happening in their places of detention. And the USA is the most seated country. I wanted to tell you how people generally find themselves in such conditions as blacks live in the ghetto. In general, I predicted these riots, I spoke about it, but, unfortunately, all this was cut out from the interview. Therefore, I really hope that when my book comes out, that after all, the Americans will read it and take power back into their own hands. I am working on the possibility of translating it into English, but it was essential for me to go to Russia first.
- What other activities did you do in freedom during the past year besides the book?
- My main activity was focused on the protection of Russian citizens who are now in places of detention, under investigation. Today, as part of my activities in the expert council under the Commissioner for Human Rights and in the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation, I lead specific cases of such people, there are a lot of them around the world. To date, 43 cases are under control. This is not only the United States, but also the countries of Asia and Europe. All that I can, I do - interact with government agencies, public organizations, we are also collecting money, in many cases successfully - in order to provide at least some assistance to those people who are in such a situation.
But at the same time, within the framework of the Public Chamber and within the framework of the expert council at the HRO, we began to work out the possibility of creating a kind of public-private partnership, a kind of system of assistance to our fellow citizens who find themselves in difficult situations abroad. We are only at the beginning of the road, from the side of state bodies there is a feeling that in the coming years we should not expect improvement, Russophobic sentiments will only grow, so we need to develop a system of “do not abandon our people” . You need to look at the problem as a whole. I think that God himself told me to do this.
- What changes have happened to you since your arrest?
- Cardinal changes. During these one and a half years, I understood a lot. In particular, the most important thing is that I do not think that before I fully realized how dear my homeland is to me and how dear I am to it. They say that a real friend is known in trouble - that's quite true about my situation. When this all happened, literally everyone, from the president to the inhabitant of the Altai village, came to my defense. Today I feel deeply indebted to my homeland and will do my best to help those who find themselves in a situation similar to mine.
I don’t think that before my imprisonment I fully understood that a passport of a citizen of the Russian Federation means so much. But life has shown me that this is exactly the case.
- Are you satisfied with life in Russia?
- Of course, to say that there is hail somewhere on a hill is wrong. Every country has problems. They also exist in Russia. And to the best of my ability, I deal with the protection of our fellow citizens abroad. On the other hand, I am on the commission for interaction with public oversight commissions - these are the very ones that deal with public control of Russian prisons. Therefore, I also conduct these cases, including monitoring the conditions of detention.
Over the past year, I have been able to visit three women's colonies, including one for female recidivists. It is important for me that what I had to go through in the United States is by no means repeated in Russia. I have consistently opposed the use of long stays in punishment cells, because I myself spent four months in a solitary confinement cell. This is a wrong tactic, it is considered torture and should not be applied to people.
As for Russia itself, the pandemic has hit our economy especially hard. I think the focus now needs to be on economic recovery. Again, everyone needs to do this together. But for my part, I can say this - it is impossible to do everything, so I single out for myself the area in which I consider my application to be the most effective. If you need my help in any other direction, then I am ready to do everything possible, and the impossible too.