Russian spy Anna Chapman, expelled from the U.S. last year, is starting a new career in venture capitalism as she allies with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to lure technology investment to the country.
“I’ve always been fascinated with technology,” Chapman, 29, said yesterday in an interview in Bloomberg News’ Moscow office. “And right now, I want to make my own input into developing this industry, the venture capital industry.”
Chapman, part of the Russian spy ring uncovered in the U.S. and deported last year, is a member of Molodaya Gvardiya, the youth wing of the ruling United Russia party headed by Putin. She says her mission is to encourage young Russians to launch start-up businesses at home rather than emigrate.
Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev say they want to wean Russia off its dependence on energy exports and accelerate growth to the pace in developing economies such as China and India. Medvedev has championed turning the Moscow suburb of Skolkovo into Russia’s “Silicon Valley” for developing new technologies.
Metals and energy make up 84 percent of exports from Russia, the world’s largest oil producer and biggest exporter of natural gas, nickel and palladium. Energy sales contribute almost half of the country’s budget revenue. The economy grew 4.1 percent from a year earlier in the first quarter, compared with 9.7 percent in China and 7.8 percent in India.
‘Lot of Notoriety’
Chapman, who has her own weekly television show, “Mysteries of the World With Anna Chapman,” this month started editing Venture Business News, which features technology news including stories about Skolkovo. Chapman said she plans to link entrepreneurs with investors. She declined to give an estimate on the amount of capital she expects to attract.
“In the West, she’s got a lot of notoriety, but not all publicity is good publicity,” Roland Nash, chief investment strategist at Verno Capital, a Moscow hedge fund that manages about $140 million, said by phone. “She’s got to turn around part of her image.”
She is “very well known and respected in Russia, by Russians in general and young Russians in particular, so in that sense she’s quite an imaginative solution.” he said.
Chapman was part of a sleeper spy ring, some of whose members had posed as ordinary Americans for more than a decade. After the 10 spies returned to Russia in July, Putin sang Soviet-era patriotic songs with them. The agents would probably find jobs in “respectable places” and have “bright and interesting lives,” the prime minister said at the time.
In October, Chapman posed for the cover of the Russian edition of the men’s magazine Maxim as a James Bond girl in lingerie and holding a gun.
Chapman, who was married to a Briton and lived in London before moving to New York, said she has experience of setting up her own businesses.
Her latest venture was a real-estate search engine that operated in 40 countries and was valued at $10 million before the global financial crisis hit in 2008, she said.
Chapman has been working since October as an adviser for Moscow-based Fondservisbank, which invests in high-technology industries including aerospace.
Medvedev, who succeeded Putin in 2008, has called for the creation of a knowledge-based economy that can compete globally. Skolkovo has been designated as technology center for companies including Siemens AG, Cisco Systems Inc. and Nokia Oyj.
“Hopefully we will contribute” to the success of Skolkovo, Chapman said. “I think it’s important that not all initiatives come from the Kremlin.”
United Russia has wooed Chapman, the most prominent of the 10 deported spies, to run for parliament in December. She declined to talk about her potential political career.
Andrei Lugovoi, a former KGB agent who is wanted by British prosecutors in connection with the murder of Putin critic Alexander Litvinenko, was elected to parliament in 2007 as a member of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia.
Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a United Russia member who invited Chapman to join a movement to increase female representation in parliament and aim for a woman president in 2018, says the former spy is an inspiration to young people who consider her a “heroine” for defending the country’s interests.
“Too bad I’m not from the St. Petersburg team,” Chapman said when asked whether she had any ambition to run for president. “I guess if I graduated from the law faculty there I would have more chances, but now I think the time is gone.” Putin, 58, and Medvedev, 45, both graduated from the law school at St. Petersburg University.
Women in Russia
Women in Russia don’t need any help to get what they want, Chapman said.
“If you are a decent, smart woman, if you bring value, you will go as far as you want, period,” she said. “If you want something you want to get, you go and get it. There is no need to talk about your rights to have it.”
Chapman took out an international trademark on her name. She secured an advertising contract with Swiss watchmaker Ulysse Nardin and has lent her brand to a limited series of watches called Lady in Red, of which there are 110 in the world in steel and 11 in pink gold.
Chapman says she’s busy fending off “funny” show business offers for her to sing or promote products such as cough medicine. She also declined movie roles, as the former spy says she has no talent for acting.
“Thank you very much to everyone who has offered me a role in a film,” she said. “But I respectfully declined to save your films because if you named the 10 worst actresses in the world, I’ll probably be there.”