The 18-month sentence imposed by U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan of the self-confessed Russian agent Maria Butina raised eyebrows in Washington and elsewhere. The real question that should be asked is who is behind the Russian redhead?
Russian billionaire Mikhail Abyzov and American millionaire Paul Erickson, Butina’s close friend, are facing criminal prosecution in their own countries, and they share a connection to two redheads.
Reading like a spy novel, their first common denominator is Siberian-born redhead Maria Butina, who is currently in the U.S. custody accused of being an unregistered Russian agent. Another redhead, the spy Anna Chapman, makes a cameo appearance.
Of the three, Abyzov proved to be the most skilled. In the rocky Russian “Wild East” of the 1990s, Abyzov started his own food import business. A decade later he owned one of Russia’s largest construction companies and was involved in Siberian oil exploration.
Along the way, Abyzov caught the eye of Russia’s second-most powerful man, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. From 2012 to 2018, Abyzov served as Russia’s Open Government Minister. While in the Russian Cabinet in 2014, Abyzov achieved Forbes billionaire status.
Always diversifying, Minister Abyzov became the majority shareholder of the ammunition company Promtechnologii. With this came his involvement in the T-5000 rifle. Russia has a long and successful history of manufacturing outstanding weapons; the T-5000s are a vast improvement over the legendary Kalashnikov rifles.
Promtechnologii’s inside tract led directly to Vladimir Putin, who approved the purchase of a limited amount of the T-5000s for testing purposes. The testing was conducted under the supervision of Alexey Rogozin, Deputy Director of Rostechnologii.
When the testing was declared completed, Rogozin provided a glowing report. Keeping it all in the family, the glowing report was no surprise for Alexei’s father, Dmitry Rogozin, then the Vice Prime Minister in charge of the Russian military-industrial complex.
What came as a surprise was that although the glowing report came with a verbal pledge, no additional weapons were contracted for purchase. Abyzov remarketed the 1,200 weapons in stock for marksmanship competition and hunting.
As with the Fast and Furious program in the United States, once the weapons were sold, there was no control on final destinations. The T-5000s is likely to be in the hands of foreign insurgents soon.
To help increase sales, Anna Chapman, the redhead of the Russian spy ring fame who was deported out of New York City, was hired by Promtechnologii’s public affairs officer. Her name recognition and spy cache helped promote the product.
The next major goal was to find someone to develop a new market.
Another readhead, Maria Butina had grown up in Siberia where a family is not complete without at least one rifle in the house. A skilled shooter, Butina had earned national recognition as founder of Russia’s “Right to Bear Arms” movement. Butina’s belief in gun ownership exceeded that of Vladimir Putin. Butina was careful that her organization did not enter into open disagreement. She proved herself to be a skilled survivor.
Apparently connected with Promtechnologii, Butina was the principal host for the American National Rifle Association’s Promtechnologii’s 2013 gun show. There she met South Dakota businessman and Republican political operative Paul Erickson.
Professing to be a dedicated Christian, Erickson missed the first lesson of the Book of Ecclesiastes, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” Erickson’s vanity allowed him to believe Butina was his love match despite a 26-year age difference. Butina came to America and moved in with Erickson.
Through Erickson, Butina had access to numerous senior members of the NRA and Republican politicians. The reality was, Abyzov viewed a Republican-led administration as being soft on his weapons imports. Erickson was a pawn in Abyzov’s chess match.
Butina’s inability to handle alcohol resulted in gaining the attention of American law enforcement. On two occasions, while drunk, referring to Abyzov, Butina bragged to fellow college students about having connections with high-level Russian officials.
Both events were reported to the FBI. Now in FBI custody, Butina admits her long-held disgust of Erickson.
Erickson had already come on the Bureau’s radar when he sold the same property to two different purchasers. Today he is under indictment for eleven counts of money laundering and fraud.
While still a member of the Russian cabinet, Abyzov commenced investing in American businesses focused on computer technology and military applications. This was part of a concern expressed by the FBI that Russian investments may possess a hidden agenda of compromising national security. Some of the technology Abyzov provided to the U.S. military may generate the same concern in Russia.
After resigning from the Russian cabinet in 2018, Abyzov commenced spending more time in the United States with his American family — and at his $17-million estate in Italy. Usually very savvy and able to avoid compromising himself, Abyzov recently accepted an invitation to come back to Russia to attend a friend’s birthday party. Russian police were waiting.
Among other charges, Abyzov stands accused in Moscow of misappropriating 400 billion rubles ($62 million) from two Russian energy companies. For years Abyzov used a corrupt government to his advantage. Now he stands in judgment before that same government.
The story may read like an episode from “The Americans,” or a cheap spy thriller, but it reflects on the deep penetration of the Russian oligarchic business into this country — including in the sensitive weapons and military technology business.
Col. Wes Martin (U.S. Military Police, Ret.) served in sensitive positions on three continents.
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