A woman accused of being a spy for Russia has pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge in the US.
Maria Butina’s plea comes as part of a deal reached with prosecutors after she indicated her willingness to co-operate with them.
The 30-year-old previously denied trying to infiltrate the National Rifle Association and relaying intelligence on US politicians to a Russian government official.
But when asked by US District Judge Tanya Chutkan if her mind was clear as she prepared to enter her guilty plea, she replied: “Absolutely”.
Prosecutors have said she was helped in her work by the Russian official and two US citizens.
Her lawyers previously named the Russian as Alexander Torshin, a deputy governor of Russia’s central bank.
Prosecutors said that one of the two Americans was Paul Erickson, a conservative activist who was dating her.
The long-term aim was to sway US policy towards Russia, they said.
Among evidence uncovered by the US was contact information for people suspected of being employed by Russia’s Federal Security Services and notes referring to a potential job offer from the agency.
Butina will remain in jail until she is sentenced.
The maximum penalty for conspiracy is five years but her lawyer, Robert Driscoll, estimated she could face up to six months in prison.
Butina, a pro-gun activist, was arrested on 15 July.
The US Justice Department said Butina entered the US on a student visa without officially disclosing the fact that she was acting as an agent of Russian government, as required by law.
Her work as an agent took place from “as early as 2015 and continuing through at least February 2017”, the department said earlier this year.
But her lawyer had claimed she was just a student interested in relations between Russia and the US and that her mundane networking had been criminalised.
Russia had described the case against her as “fabricated” and on Tuesday, as it became clear Butina would enter a guilty plea, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin said: “She risks 15 years in jail. For what?
“I asked all the heads of our intelligence services what is going on – nobody knows anything about her.”
Reacting to news of Butina’s plea on Thursday, Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the Russian state Duma’s foreign affairs committee said she had fallen victim to “political inquisition”.
He said: “They broke her down. Anyone would break down in circumstances like that.”
Butina’s case is not related to the investigation led by former FBI chief Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the US presidential election.
But she is the first Russian to be convicted of attempting to sway US policy in a time period that includes Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Mr Trump has denied any collusion with Moscow and Russia has denied meddling in US politics.