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    This courtroom sketch depicts Maria Butina, in orange suit, a 29-year-old gun-rights activist suspected of being a covert Russian agent, listening to her attorney Robert Driscoll, standing, as he speaks to Judge Deborah Robinson, left, during a hearing in federal court in Washington, Wednesday, July 18, 2018. Assistant U.S. Attorney Erik Kenerson, bottom left, and co-defense attorney's Alfred Carry, right, listen. Prosecutors say Butina was likely in contact with Kremlin operatives while living in the United States. And prosecutors also are accusing her of using sex and deception to forge influential connections

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

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    MOSCOW (Sputnik) - Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday he had not heard any statements on a potential exchange of Russian national Maria Butina, who is on trial in the United States, for Paul Whelan detained in Russia.

    "I have not heard such statements, so I cannot say anything… Russia never uses people as pawns in a diplomatic game. Russia does engage in counterintelligence activities regarding those who are suspected of spying, this, yes, regularly. But nobody in Russia has ever used people as pawns," Peskov told reporters when asked to comment on a potential exchange.

    READ MORE: Only US Representatives Visited Whelan Detained for Espionage in Russia — Moscow

    The presidential spokesman said that special services and the Russian Foreign Ministry had made their statements on the detention of Whelan.

    "I do not have anything to add to that at the moment," Peskov said.

    "As for unfriendly manifestations, there are still a lot of them in Washington, both in the Congress, the Senate, the State Department, and so on. We are not inclined to wear rose-tinted glasses and are aware that such unfriendly manifestations are still, probably, dominating, unfortunately," Peskov said.

    Recently, Whelan's Russian lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, said that he could be exchanged for a Russian national Maria Butina, according to ABC News.

    Paul Whelan, a former US marine, officially employed as director of global security for a Michigan-based automotive parts supplier, was detained in Moscow on December 28, with Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) filing a criminal case against him over allegations of espionage, he faces a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

    Earlier, in July 2018, US authorities arrested Russian citizen Maria Butina after she pleaded guilty earlier to one count of conspiracy to act as a foreign agent in the United States.

    Initial charges against her carried a prison sentence of up to 15 years. The next hearing in Butina case is set for February 13 and she may be sentenced to five years in prison and eventually deported to Russia.


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