The July arrest and indictment of Maria Butina , a 29-year-old Russian woman accused of being a spy, sent shockwaves through Washington and left the political world wondering where she had come from.
Her Instagram page showed a glimpse of what her life looked like in Russia while she was allegedly “laying the groundwork” to move to the United States and conduct high-level espionage on behalf of the Russian government.
Butina’s Instagram seems to be removed now, but Business Insider reviewed the posts before the account was shut down.
The selfies, pictures of her at the gym, and photos of food paint the picture of a normal 20-something professional, who also happens to like guns.
Both the official criminal complaint filed against Butina and an affidavit from an FBI agent who investigated her say that during the time she posted on Instagram, she was “laying the groundwork” to infiltrate the American right on behalf of the Russian government.
The affidavit alleges that from 2013 to 2015, she worked with her boss, Russian Central Bank deputy governor Alexander Torshin, as well as a “US person 1,” believed to be GOP strategist Paul Erickson, to forge relationships and develop a network of high-level Republican operatives and officials with the National Rifle Association, whose conferences she began attending around that time.
The FBI agent who wrote the affidavit described Butina’s communications before she arrived in the United States a “plan to conduct activities as an illegal agent of the Russian Federation in the United States through a Russian influence operation.”
Butina’s Instagram profile had around 2,000 followers and 150 posts from the same timeframe of 2013 to 2015, the year before she moved to Washington, DC on a student visa. At that time, she also managed a furniture business and worked in public relations.
Her bio, roughly translated from the original Russian, said: “Member of the board and founder of the movement ‘Right to Arms.'”
This movement, founded in 2011, advocated for increased gun rights in Russia, which then helped Butina become involved with the NRA. Her bio also included a link to a website titled mariabutina.ru, which appears to have since been hacked or the ownership has changed, as it now re-directs to a pornographic website.
Here are some of the posts that help give a sense of who Butina was before the world learned her name from the Justice Department’s criminal complaint.
Posts from 2013 show her early interest in guns and gun rights
“In the arms store. Israel, Tel Aviv,” a post from 2013 was captioned.
She posted another photo of her with the result of her wild boar hunting:
In another post, she was picketing outside a government building in Moscow for her “My House, My Fortress” initatives, according to a translation of the caption.
Butina also appeared on several talk shows and panels to discuss her gun rights work, and documented her appearances on Instagram.
She posted several photos with Torshin , her former boss. A powerful Russian political figure, Torshin served for many years in the Russian parliament, has been a deputy governor at Russia’s central bank since 2015, and is also involved in pro-gun rights activism.
He and Butina started attending NRA conventions in the US, and were named “life members.”
Torshin, who is believed to be “Russian official 1” in the affidavit, has been accused of money laundering for organized crime groups by Spanish authorities, and was was placed on the US Treasury Department’s list of sanctioned Russian officials in April 2018.
Outside work, Butina posted like a normal 20-something
Butina posted photos of her working out, receiving a boxing lesson, and painting.
“When the whole gym is at your disposal. An interesting feeling, like no one interferes,” a translation of the caption for one read.
She also shared some interesting culinary creations.
Butina described one meal as a cottage cheese casserole with apples, strawberries, black currants, and eggs. Another showed open-face sandwiches with tomatoes on cold, un-melted shredded cheese.
One photo showed scrambled eggs with a pool of liquid around them.
“Omelet from 2 eggs, a glass of low-fat milk and yogurt this morning. Come on, criticize for a liquid omelette – and I love it and specially do it,” a translation of her caption read.
“The site is supposed to be where we put food photos we’re proud of, not some slapped together dish we made after a jog and then — it would seem — left out in the rain,” the breakfast food website Extra Crispy said of Butina’s egg-stagrams.
In another post, Butina posed with her cat. She also shared her thoughts about family, writing in one caption:
“With dad and sister at the parents’ house, grilling kebabs. Family is a real treasure. Do not forget. No one will ever be closer in life!”