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Moscow says it will help Russian despite her guilty plea

In this courtroom sketch, Maria Butina, left, is shown next to her attorney Robert Driscoll, before U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, during a court hearing at the U.S. District Court in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. Maria Butina, a Russian accused of being a secret agent for the Russian government, has pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge in federal court in Washington. (Dana Verkouteren via AP)

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian officials say Moscow will continue to support a Russian woman in custody in the United States who has pleaded guilty to acting as a covert agent of the Russian government, even though it rejects that claim.

Maria Butina on Thursday pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge for trying to infiltrate conservative political groups in the U.S., as part of a deal with federal prosecutors.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Russian news agencies on Friday that he “understands” why Butina pleaded guilty, quoting what he described as “torturous” prison conditions.

Lavrov reiterated Moscow’s commitment to support Butina, who has been in jail since July, and said Russia would do it best to help her come home.

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