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From Russia with love — and then some.
Admitted Russian agent Maria Butina is claiming she wasn’t a spy at all — just a gun-loving student with a “weakness” for smart and powerful men.
Butina, who served 15 months behind bars for breaching conservative circles to influence US Republican politics, was interviewed from a Virginia jail for a six-part Wondery series, “Spy Affair,” set to be released Tuesday.
In the first two episodes, previewed by The Post, Butina, 32, casts herself as a firearm loving peacemaker — trying to learn from the National Rifle Association and conservatives to promote gun rights in the Motherland, and build a “relationship between two countries [she] loved.”
“Look, I romanticized the NRA. They have the biggest lobbying group, and I wanted to learn how they do it,” Butina tells narrator Celia Aniskovich.
That Butina just so happened to have affairs with powerful, twice-her-age men who facilitated her ruse was simply the luck of the draw, she insisted.
“I have one weakness as a woman — I really like smart men. That’s my biggest weakness, and that I guess gets me in trouble all the time,” she says of her romance with former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne.
Butina came on the scene as a student at American University, when the US and Russia were locked in a fierce sanctions battle ahead of the 2016 election.
And so her relationship — and allegiance — to Alexander Torshin, a prominent Russian politician and banker, raised red flags within the FBI, which suggested her motives went far beyond glasnost.
“She’s not trained as a spy, but she’s being used by elements of the Russian government in a way that is advancing Russian interests and that is what squarely put her on the radar,” former FBI agent Peter Strozk says in the series.
Butina, however, chalks her relationship with Torshin up to her desire to cozy up to the rich and powerful — the same reasons she gives for her keen interest in then-candidate Donald Trump.
“For me he is not a government official, he has become my gun-loving friend,” she says of Torshin.
Butina’s main pipeline to the GOP was through her then-boyfriend Paul Erickson, a Republican operative and an unlikely match for the svelte and charming Russian — with whom he was rarely seen being affectionate towards, pals said.
“[It was] like they were on the same page about something — and we didn’t know what it was,” says Elena Nicolaou, the daughter of one of Erickson’s pals who met Butina on a trip to Disney World in 2015.
The trip was a dream come true, Butina gushes.
“I came back to my childhood — this is how I dreamed: ‘Someday, I’m going to go to the stars, way beyond our galaxy,’” she recalls about her wave of emotions riding Disney’s Space Mountain rollercoaster.
Her relationship with Byrne blossomed soon after the Florida trip, with rendezvous at the Bowery Hotel and a cabin outside of Park City, Utah.
“My attitude to her was, ‘look I know these Republican guys are duds. When you really want to come and get, you know, a world-class shagging and have a great weekend, give me a call,’” he recalls telling Butina.
Byrne insists he kept up the relationship for Uncle Sam — to get to the bottom of Butina’s real motives in the US.
Eventually, he claims he was instructed to spy on her.
“’We do not ask citizens to sleep with people to get information, but you are being asked to rekindle your romantic relationship with Maria and get to the bottom of what she is doing here,’” he says he was told by the US government, a claim that has been denied by FBI agents.
Butina was arrested in July 2018 and spent 15 months behind bars before she was deported home in October 2019. Now, she works for Russia’s state-owned television network as host of an online show that mocks opposition to the Kremlin.
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