00:11 GMT13 May 2021
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    WASHINGTON (Sputnik) – Russian citizen Maria Butina, who has been imprisoned in the United States for eight months, wants to come back to Russia to study theology and become a teacher, Russian Orthodox priest Victor Potapov told Sputnik.

    "Maria wants to study theology but has not chosen the school yet", said the priest, who visits Butina in a detention center near Washington, DC approximately twice a month. Potapov said that he does not think Butina would want to pursue a political career.

    "Maria does not want to deal in politics at all. I think, she wants to become a teacher", father Viktor added. He also noted that Butina, 30, wants to build a Christian family. Asked to describe Butina’s psychological condition, the priest has emphasized that she continues to be optimistic despite difficulties she has been facing since her arrest in July 2018.

    READ MORE: Kremlin on Potential Butina-Whelan Exchange: Russia Never Uses People as Pawns

    "Her psychological condition is very good and very positive", he said. The priest said he does not know if Maria has any friends in prison.

    "She tries to get along with everyone. I do no not think she is particularly looking for strong friendships", Potapov noted. "Her goal is to keep reading, praying and going home".

    Potapov mentioned that he tries to visit Butina as often as possible and has no problems with prison authorities. "Each time I visit I give a call to the [prison’s] chaplain and tell him when I want to visit Maria", he said, adding that he talks to Maria one-on-one. "I give them a two-day notice, it is very easy".

    Speaking of Butina’s charges, Potapov expressed his own conviction of her innocence. "I am convinced that she never committed any serious offenses. She has a totally ridiculous charge", he said.

    "I visited Maria again on Wednesday", Potapov said. "Of course, she is disappointed that at the last hearing the government asked the judge to put off the sentencing hearing for a month".

    READ MORE: Russian Embassy Says Called on US Prison for Humane Treatment of Butina

    Potapov said that Butina remains "very positive" despite all difficulties. "Maria says, 'Well, I guess that I will have to stay part of the Great Lent in prison'", the priest recalled, referring to the Russia Orthodox lent that starts on 11 March.

    "I started visiting Maria Butina four months ago and I have to say the person I met then is a totally different person now", Potapov said.

    He conceded that Butina, who is baptized in Russian Orthodoxy, did not take her faith seriously but has changed dramatically since her ordeal in US prison began.

    The priest said that he brought Butina about 50 religious books penned by different Orthodox writers and commentators, as well as a copy of the Bible. "Each time, I bring her four to five religious books", Potapov said. "She studies them, and each time I come, she prepares a list of 15 to 20 questions about religion and spiritual life. I can see that thanks to the grace of the Holy Spirit, she has truly been transformed".

    The priest emphasized that whenever he visits Butina, he tries to provide her comfort. "I hear her confessions and give her Holy Communion", he said. "I can say that Maria is a very intelligent woman and her only goal in life now is to leave for Russia and join her family".

    Father Victor noted that Butina feels blessed for her imprisonment. "Maria feels that the time she is spending in prison is a positive experience. She thanks God each day that she has the time to pray, to study and to live a spiritual life", he said.

    READ MORE: Butina Pleads Guilty After Being ‘Sexually Assaulted’ & ‘Abused’ In DC Jail

    After her release from prison, Butina hopes not to move further from the faith, the priest added. Asked about her conditions in prison, Potapov said that she has no complaints about food and plans to fast during the Great Lent that begins on 11 March.

    He also said that Butina found several Russian-language books in the prison library, and took interest in Dostoevsky.

    "Maria is reading Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment" and wants very much to read "The Brothers Karamazov", he added.

    The priest noted that next time he could visit Butina in a couple of weeks. "I have not scheduled the meeting yet, but it looks like it will be in the beginning of March, probably during the first week of the Great Lent which begins 11 March", he said.

    Meanwhile, Butina is disappointed by the court decision to postpone her sentencing hearing at least until the end of March, Potapov said.

    On Tuesday, US Judge Tanya Chutkan scheduled the next status hearing in Butina’s case for 28 March after prosecutors had requested additional time to complete their investigation.

    Butina was arrested in mid-July of last year. In December, she pleaded guilty to acting as a foreign agent without prior notification to the US Attorney General, and has agreed to cooperate with authorities. Now she is facing up to five years in prison.

    READ MORE: Stranger Tries to File Court Motion in Butina Case on Her Behalf — Lawyer

    The Russian Foreign Ministry said US authorities browbeat Butina into confessing by creating unbearable detention conditions and threatening her with a long prison sentence. Russian President Vladimir Putin, referring to unregistered foreign agent charges, said there was no reason for the United States to indict Butina in the first place given she was not charged with any mission by the Russian government.

    Butina’s attorney Robert Driscoll told Sputnik earlier in February that she would be deported to Russia after sentencing as part of the plea agreement.


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