Accused abroad, Russians become celebrities at home

The last time Britain accused two Russians of an assassination, one of them ended up in the Russian parliament.

The case of Andrei Lugovoi, a key suspect in the 2006 killing of ex-KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko, shows how the two alleged Russian military intelligence operatives accused by Britain of poisoning ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal could have lucrative careers in Russia if they go public.

President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday the men — who British authorities said used the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov — appeared to be innocent. He suggested they tell their story "to some media outlet."

Hours later, Russian state TV said it had spoken with Petrov and that he planned to comment on the case next week. Previous cases show that could be an improbable springboard into parliament or a network TV show.

When some Russians have been accused of crimes abroad, political and business leaders have embraced them and made them celebrities.


Accused of poisoning Litvinenko with the radioactive substance polonium, Lugovoi, a former KGB officer, parlayed his newfound fame into a political career. In 2007, he was elected to parliament on the ticket of the nationalist LDPR party, which has strong Kremlin ties.

Since then, he's given his name to the Lugovoi Law — a 2014 measure allowing authorities to block "extremist" websites without a court ruling — and he's a regular commentator on the Skripal case for state TV.

Lugovoi argues Skripal's poisoning had nothing to do with Russia and blames Britain for harboring what he calls defectors.

"As long as you keep welcoming all kinds of scum on your territory, you're going to keep having problems," he said in March on a popular talk shows.

The Russian constitution bans extraditing criminal suspects, and Lugovoi's status as a lawmaker makes him immune from prosecution at home. A fellow suspect, Dmitry Kovtun, has kept a lower profile.


When the FBI rounded up 10 Russian sleeper agents in 2010 and sent them home in a spy swap, one caught the eye of the tabloids.

The then-28-year-old Chapman, who was married to a British man, later launched a modeling career in Russia, and was briefly on the board of the youth arm of a pro-Putin political party.

She's best known, however, as the host of "Chapman's Secrets," a long-running show mixing anti-U.S. rhetoric with conspiracy theories and mysticism.

"Why does official science still not concede that unidentified flying objects are alien spaceships?" she said one episode. "Our hypothesis that alien intelligence has long colluded with the ruling elite was recently and unexpectedly confirmed. What are politicians and soldiers keeping quiet about? I, Anna Chapman, will reveal this secret."

More than 400 episodes have been made. Last week, guests speculated the U.S. was training Eastern European guerrillas to invade Russia, and another — introduced as a shaman — suggested intelligent trees caused hikers to go missing out of spite for humanity.

"It's incredible, but the living forest from the movie 'Avatar' isn't the director's make-believe," Chapman summarized.


Accused of working as an undeclared foreign agent in the U.S., Butina is fast becoming a cause celebre at home.

She was a relatively obscure gun-rights activist in Russia before she started making political contacts among Republicans and National Rifle Association members in the U.S. Now, Butina's photo is the avatar on the Russian Foreign Ministry's social media profiles.

Government rhetoric portrays her as a martyr to U.S. paranoia and a victim of poor conditions in the Washington, D.C., jail where she's being held pending trial.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Nation World

Who is Rachel Mitchell, the woman who will be questioning Ford, Kavanaugh?
Who is Rachel Mitchell, the woman who will be questioning Ford, Kavanaugh?

Rachel Mitchell, an Arizona sex crimes prosecutor, has been tapped by Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee to question U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who claims Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when the two were high school students. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the chairman of the Judiciary...
SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh's 1982 calendar pages sent to Senate committee 
SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh's 1982 calendar pages sent to Senate committee 

Controversy continues to swirl around Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in the wake of decades-old sexual misconduct allegations leveled against him by a pair of women. What was expected to be a simple nomination process has become mired in allegations involving incidents alleged to have occurred while Kavanaugh was in high school or college. Deborah...
Multiple crashes on area highways causing severe backups
Multiple crashes on area highways causing severe backups

Several crashes on area interstates Wednesday morning are causing severe backups.  On Interstate 75 South, a crash was reported near Needmore Road around 7:30 a.m. The crash was reported on the left side of the road and was causing delays around 30 minutes, according to data from the Ohio Department of Transportation.  A second crash reported...
Bill Cosby sentenced to 3-10 years in state prison
Bill Cosby sentenced to 3-10 years in state prison

A judge sentenced comedian Bill Cosby to three to 10 years in state prison Tuesday, five months after a jury found him guilty of drugging and molesting a onetime friend in 2004. Judge Steven O’Neil handed down the sentence after ruling earlier Tuesday that Cosby, 81, is a “sexually violent predator.” The designation...
College student shot in head during road-rage attack, police say
College student shot in head during road-rage attack, police say

Police are looking for the person who shot a college student in the head during a road-rage incident on I-575 in Georgia. WSB-TV has learned the road-rage incident started when the victim, Neil Seiz, 23, and his passenger were driving back to Acworth from an Atlanta Braves baseball game early Saturday. According to police, they were on I-575...
More Stories