Accused abroad, Russians become celebrities at home

AP

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  • FILE - In this Sunday, April 22, 2012 filer, Maria Butina, a gun-rights activist, poses for a photo at a shooting range in Moscow, Russia. Accused of working as an undeclared foreign agent in the U.S., Butina is fast becoming a cause celebre at home. Russian government rhetoric portrays Butina, accused of working as an undeclared foreign agent in the U.S., as a martyr to U.S. paranoia and a victim of poor conditions in the jail where she's being held pending trial. (AP Photo/Pavel Ptitsin, File)

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    FILE - In this Tuesday, March 12, 2013 file photo, former KGB agent Andrei Lugovoi speaks at a news conference in Moscow, Russia. The case of Andrei Lugovoi, a key suspect in the 2006 killing of ex-KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko who ended up in Russian parliament, 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. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze, File)

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    FILE. In this file photo taken on Sunday, April 3, 2011, Anna Chapman, who was deported from the U.S. on charges of espionage, displays a creation by Russian designers Shiyan & Rudkovskaya during a Fashion Week in Moscow, Russia. Chapman, one of 10 Russian sleeper agents rounded up by the FBI in 2010 and sent home in a spy swap, became the host of "Chapman's Secrets," a long-running show mixing anti-U.S. rhetoric with conspiracy theories and mysticism. (AP Photo /Luba Sheme, File)

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    FILE In this file grab taken from CCTV and issued by the Metropolitan Police in London on Wednesday Sept. 5, 2018, Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov walk on Fisherton Road, Salisbury, England on March 4, 2018. President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 that Russia has identified the two men that Britain named as suspects in the poisoning of a former Russian spy, and that there is "nothing criminal" about them. (Metropolitan Police via AP, File)

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    In this photo taken on Friday, Sept. 7, 2012, Maria Butina walks with Alexander Torshin then a member of the Russian upper house of parliament in Moscow, Russia. When gun activist Maria Butina arrived in Washington in 2014 to network with the NRA, she was peddling a Russian gun rights movement that was already dead. Fellow gun enthusiasts and arms industry officials describe the strange trajectory of her Russian gun lobby project, which U.S. prosecutors say was a cover for a Russian influence campaign. Accused of working as a foreign agent, Butina faces a hearing Monday, Sept. 10 in Washington. (AP Photo/Pavel Ptitsin)

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    In this photo taken on Sunday, April 22, 2012, Maria Butina, a gun-rights activist, poses for a photo at a shooting range in Moscow, Russia. When gun activist Maria Butina arrived in Washington in 2014 to network with the NRA, she was peddling a Russian gun rights movement that was already dead. Fellow gun enthusiasts and arms industry officials describe the strange trajectory of her Russian gun lobby project, which U.S. prosecutors say was a cover for a Russian influence campaign. Accused of working as a foreign agent, Butina faces a hearing Monday, Sept. 10 in Washington. (AP Photo/Pavel Ptitsin)

  • FILE - In this Sunday, April 22, 2012 filer, Maria Butina, a gun-rights activist, poses for a photo at a shooting range in Moscow, Russia. Accused of working as an undeclared foreign agent in the U.S., Butina is fast becoming a cause celebre at home. Russian government rhetoric portrays Butina, accused of working as an undeclared foreign agent in the U.S., as a martyr to U.S. paranoia and a victim of poor conditions in the jail where she's being held pending trial. (AP Photo/Pavel Ptitsin, File)

  • 1

    FILE - In this Tuesday, March 12, 2013 file photo, former KGB agent Andrei Lugovoi speaks at a news conference in Moscow, Russia. The case of Andrei Lugovoi, a key suspect in the 2006 killing of ex-KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko who ended up in Russian parliament, 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. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze, File)

  • 2

    FILE. In this file photo taken on Sunday, April 3, 2011, Anna Chapman, who was deported from the U.S. on charges of espionage, displays a creation by Russian designers Shiyan & Rudkovskaya during a Fashion Week in Moscow, Russia. Chapman, one of 10 Russian sleeper agents rounded up by the FBI in 2010 and sent home in a spy swap, became the host of "Chapman's Secrets," a long-running show mixing anti-U.S. rhetoric with conspiracy theories and mysticism. (AP Photo /Luba Sheme, File)

  • 3

    FILE In this file grab taken from CCTV and issued by the Metropolitan Police in London on Wednesday Sept. 5, 2018, Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov walk on Fisherton Road, Salisbury, England on March 4, 2018. President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 that Russia has identified the two men that Britain named as suspects in the poisoning of a former Russian spy, and that there is "nothing criminal" about them. (Metropolitan Police via AP, File)

  • 4

    In this photo taken on Friday, Sept. 7, 2012, Maria Butina walks with Alexander Torshin then a member of the Russian upper house of parliament in Moscow, Russia. When gun activist Maria Butina arrived in Washington in 2014 to network with the NRA, she was peddling a Russian gun rights movement that was already dead. Fellow gun enthusiasts and arms industry officials describe the strange trajectory of her Russian gun lobby project, which U.S. prosecutors say was a cover for a Russian influence campaign. Accused of working as a foreign agent, Butina faces a hearing Monday, Sept. 10 in Washington. (AP Photo/Pavel Ptitsin)

  • 5

    In this photo taken on Sunday, April 22, 2012, Maria Butina, a gun-rights activist, poses for a photo at a shooting range in Moscow, Russia. When gun activist Maria Butina arrived in Washington in 2014 to network with the NRA, she was peddling a Russian gun rights movement that was already dead. Fellow gun enthusiasts and arms industry officials describe the strange trajectory of her Russian gun lobby project, which U.S. prosecutors say was a cover for a Russian influence campaign. Accused of working as a foreign agent, Butina faces a hearing Monday, Sept. 10 in Washington. (AP Photo/Pavel Ptitsin)

MOSCOW (AP) 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.

ANDREI LUGOVOI

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.

ANNA CHAPMAN

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.

MARIA BUTINA

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.

    

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