Support The Moscow Times!

Russia's Foreign Ministry Launches #FreeMariaButina Campaign

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has launched an online campaign in support of accused Russian agent Maria Butina, drawing a mixed bag of public support and snark.

Butina, 29, was arrested last Sunday in the United States and charged with conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian government. A judge ordered Butina, a recent graduate of American University in Washington D.C. and founder of a pro-gun Russian advocacy group, to be detained until her trial after U.S. prosecutors argued she was a flight risk.  

The Russian Foreign Ministry launched a Twitter flashmob on Thursday calling for followers to change their profile pictures to an image of Butina with the hashtag #FreeMariaButina.

The ministry’s English-language accounts shared Butina’s photograph with another hashtag saying #NewProfilePic.

Online responses to the flashmob ranged from supportive to incredulous, with a heavy dose of trolling.

On the snarky side, Twitter users reinterpreted the wording of the hashtag to read as an ad campaign offering a free Maria Butina.

The Twitter curation website Twitchy compiled an extensive list of #FreeMariaButina hashtags with photos of redhead pop culture figures, including singer Ed Sheeran, actress Scarlett Johansson and standup comic Carrot Top. The inspiration, it wrote, came after a U.S. National Security Council staffer photographed at a White House meeting with Russian officials was confused for Butina because of her red hair.

The #FreeMariaButina hashtag’s popularity surged in the United States, but had little traction in Moscow, where it originated, as of Friday afternoon.

Read more

Independent journalism isn’t dead. You can help keep it alive.

The Moscow Times’ team of journalists has been first with the big stories on the coronavirus crisis in Russia since day one. Our exclusives and on-the-ground reporting are being read and shared by many high-profile journalists.

We wouldn’t be able to produce this crucial journalism without the support of our loyal readers. Please consider making a donation to The Moscow Times to help us continue covering this historic time in the world’s largest country.