Anna Chapman, glamorous Russian spy, bids farewell to astronauts
Anna Chapman, the Russian spy deported from the US, is living the life of a celebrity at home, defying espionage convention and casting doubt over whether she was ever a real spy.
Moscow — Anna Chapman, the glamorous spy who came in from the cold, appears determined to break out of the seclusion that is traditionally imposed on retired Soviet and Russian agents and find herself a place in the sun.
Clad in a hot red jacket and tight-fitting black slacks, Ms. Chapman was today spotted smiling and waving at the former Soviet space launch center Baikonur, in Kazakhstan, as she attended an exclusive farewell ceremony for Russian cosmonauts Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka and American astronaut Scott Kelly. The team later blasted off for the International Space Station in a Russian Soyuz TMA-M space vehicle.
Since being repatriated from the United States three months ago along with nine other alleged Russian agents in a classic cold war spy swap, she has made a mockery of the old KGB dictate that retired spies should fade away into anonymity, leaving nothing but a glorious public myth behind.
At the same time, however, she is bringing skepticism to whether a woman who seems so addicted to self-promotion – even posting glamor shots of herself on Facebook during the time she was allegedly working as an undercover Russian agent – could actually be a spy.
'She's a pop figure'
"There are plenty of signs that Chapman wasn't a real spy," says Valentin Velichenko, president of "For Spiritual Revival, Honor and Dignity," a public organization of former diplomats and intelligence workers. "Perhaps she was some sort of trainee. But even her youth testifies that she couldn't have done anything significant."
Though the Kremlin clearly acknowledged that Chapman and the others were indeed Russian agents by exchanging them for four convicted spies being held in Russian prisons, many security experts continue to insist there was something fishy, perhaps involving political machinations or corruption, about the spy scandal that blew up last June.
"Anna Chapman had nothing to do with the intelligence services; she's a pop figure, used to attract media attention to this or that event," says Stanislav Belkovsky, head of the Kremlin-connected Institute of National Strategy.
"All those so-called spies were just buffoons, and never carried out any real functions. It just gave our special services a pretext to ask for more money, and therefore I would term it as corruption," rather than espionage, he says.
'I dream of meeting her'
"I have my doubts that she was ever a staff intelligence officer. But if she was, and stopped being illegal, why shouldn't she begin a new career?" asks Yury Kobaladze, former head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) public relations department. "I feel proud of such girls. British lords admire her, she created a furore in the USA, all men are mad about her. I dream of meeting her myself."
Weeks before being released from an undisclosed debriefing center near Moscow, Chapman was reportedly one of a group of agents who held a rollicking get-together and patriotic singalong with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who later enthused about the meeting to journalists.
"I met them. We talked about life. We sang. It was not karaoke but live music," Putin said, adding that they performed the 1960's hit 'From Whence the Motherland Arises.'
Spoiling the KGB brand?
In August she departed completely from the old KGB playbook with a racy photoshoot for Zhara (Heat), a Russian gossip magazine, and was seen partying in at least one trendy Moscow nightclub.
Russian tabloids have run lurid exposes based on interviews with old boyfriends, Maxim magazine has nominated her for the "100 sexiest Russian women" pageant, and a newspaper in her hometown of Volgograd is running a contest for the best song written in her honor.
That kind of public exposure some Russian intelligence veterans huffing in disapproval, and worrying that she may be spoiling their brand.
"A person who works illegally for our special services is an absolutely secret personality," says Mr. Velichenko. "When he dies, he gets buried under the name he used during his illegal activity, not his real name. Real legends are known only to us professionals."