Pro-Kremlin group luring youth with spy luster

Wed Dec 22, 2010 4:32pm EST
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By Maria Tsvetkova

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian celebrity spy Anna Chapman turned political activist on Wednesday to rally youth support for Vladimir Putin's United Russia party as it prepares for parliamentary elections next year.

The red-haired Russian agent has made a public name for herself, posing in slinky lingerie, showing up at a space launch and moving in high Kremlin circles since she was deported from the United States in a Cold War-style swap.

The 28-year-old Russian, welcomed back by ex-KGB spy Putin in July, entered the political arena on Wednesday when she assumed an advisory role with the Young Guard, the youth wing of the dominant United Russia Party.

Chapman, who had led a double life posing as an American and trying to infiltrate U.S. policymaking circles, delivered a rallying speech at a meeting of the group after joining its Public Council.

"Let's start to change the country with ourselves," said Chapman, on stage in a curve-hugging red-and-black dress.

"If each of us were gladdened by the new day, then we could do something new and useful," she said. "Be Happy!"

With his carefully cultivated street-smart image, Putin may be popular with young Russians; but United Russia's entrenched position lends it a stodgy air, costing it support from some young people who look to livelier alternatives.

Nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky's flamboyant oratory makes him popular with disgruntled youth, while the Communists profit from resentment over the growing gap between rich and poor and romantic images of the old Soviet Union.   Continued...

<p>Anna Chapman, a former Russian spy now working as an advisor to the president of Moscow-based FundService Bank, delivers a speech during a congress of pro-Kremlin Molodaya Gvardiya (Young Guard) movement in Moscow, December 22, 2010. REUTERS/Alexander Natruskin</p>