December 22, 2010 / 9:35 PM / in 7 years

Pro-Kremlin group luring youth with spy luster

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.

<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>

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.

RIOTING

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

Racist rioting last weekend involving Russians as young as their teens demonstrated the growing power of militant activism.

Chapman takes on her new role as United Russia gears up for 2011 parliamentary elections which the party hopes will preserve its huge parliamentary majority and set the stage for a commanding win for the Kremlin’s presidential candidate in 2012.

Opponents accuse Prime Minister Putin of suppressing rivals to United Russia and excluding them from the media.

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Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev have said they will decide who will run closer to the vote.

In her address, Chapman echoed Putin’s accusation in a televised talk with last week that opposition politicians are just out for power and money.

“We expend so much effort to make Russia a great power ... and so many people struggle for power and glory with money,” she said.

Chapman and nine others pleaded guilty to being agents for Russia and were deported in July in exchange for four Russians imprisoned in Russia for alleged contact with Western intelligence agencies.

Most have maintained low profiles, but Chapman has been the headline-grabbing exception.

She posed in slinky lingerie in a photoshoot in August, with the Kremlin as a backdrop, and has turned up at a space launch and a science park. She has a job with a bank whose initials are FSB -- the same as the main successor of the Soviet KGB.

Asked in English whether she planned a political career, Chapman replied, in English, “I‘m just going through some personal developments that are important to me.”

Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; writing by Steve Guterman; editing by Ralph Boulton

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