In the seven months since being arrested by the FBI and drummed out of the U.S., flame-haired spy Anna Chapman has become Russia’s hottest cultural icon. She’s posed semi-naked in a men’s magazine, suggestively holding a pistol, and she’s stood at attention in a tight-fitting military uniform receiving a medal from President Dmitry Medvedev. She’s been on TV numerous times, doing skits on the national New Year’s show and presenting her own program about the “mysteries of the world.” And, as of last week, Chapman has registered her name as a trademark, meaning that her Russian fans can look forward to Chapman-branded products from soap to jewelry and watches, clothes and shoes, vodka and beer.
Chapman’s personal style may be deliriously trashy—big hair, exposed bra straps, sheer satin evening dresses—and her TV presence is less than gripping. But the secret of her success is that she plays to so many stereotypes and helps Russians feel good about themselves. “If she didn’t exist you’d have to invent her—she personifies the idea of the dangerous, sexy beauty. She’s Russia’s own real-life female James Bond,” says Ilya Bezugly, editor of Maxim magazine, which ran Chapman’s sexy photo shoot. “Plus, many Russians love the fact that she stuck one to the Americans; we don’t have many success stories like that.”
But not everyone adores Chapman’s voracious appetite for self-publicity. “Diehard communists were shocked and disgusted when she appeared on the cover of a men’s magazine,” says Bezugly, who has known Chapman personally since she was a teenager. But even those who agree with the callers on Radio Ekho of Moscow who pronounced her “a strumpet” and “a toy of the Putin regime” have to acknowledge that she’s a genius at marketing the Chapman brand.
Her real PR coup, at base, has been to make the Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB, sexy. The Russian tabloids call her “Agent 90-60-90” (a cheesy reference to her vital statistics) and glamorize her espionage exploits. The Kremlin, staffed largely by former spooks, jumped on the Chapman bandwagon early and is now sitting firmly in the driver’s seat. Chapman has appeared at rallies for the pro-Kremlin youth group the Young Guard, a Putin brainchild whose members took a leading role in harassing journalists and opposition members last year. A seat in the Duma, Russia’s Parliament, has been mooted. She’s also been roped into Medvedev’s pet project, the “innovation city” in Skolkovo, outside Moscow, whose director suggested she apply for a $1 million research grant for some projects with the Young Guard. In short, she has become the glamorous face of Russia’s regime. “The more popular she makes the brand of Anna Chapman, the bigger favor she does for Russia’s image,” says Duma deputy Sergei Markov.
Next on the Chapman world-domination plan: a proprietary $1.99 iPhone app produced by the U.S.-based Zeda Inc. called Poker With Anna Chapman, which allows players to take on the Russian spy in either Texas Hold ’Em or five-card draw (an Anna Chapman inflatable sex toy, produced by another U.S. company, is unlicensed).
The fact that two of the world’s most famous living Russians—Putin and Chapman—are both former spooks speaks volumes about who is really in charge of Russia today, and how successful the KGB has been in laundering the blood of millions from its image in less than a generation. Or, put more charitably, “the Anna Chapman story is one of how to make a failure into a success,” says Maxim editor Bezugly. That’s the kind of fairy story Russians are desperate to believe in.