They are smart, attractive, and certainly fascinating. And they may even have been inspired to join Russia’s secret service by a certain ex-spy called Vladimir Putin.
For Anna Chapman, Mikhail Semenko and the nine other Russian “illegals” dramatically accused this week, working for Russia’s foreign intelligence service may have seemed the ultimate career thrill.
Few suspected the assignment would end in a US jail.
For most Russians, getting a job in the country’s vast bureaucracy is a happy career step.
Even more glamorous is the FSB, Russia’s ubiquitous domestic intelligence service. But the most prestigious agency of all is still the SVR, Russia’s equivalent of MI6.
According to Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a sociologist at Russia’s Academy of Sciences and an expert in elite studies, the service’s glamorous reputation is largely a hangover from Soviet times.
“People don’t just work for the SVR for money and a career. There are many other motives, including education, patriotism and the romantic and heroic portrayal of intelligence officers in films and novels,” she said.
All Russians are familiar with the 1960s TV series Seventeen Moments of Spring in which a Russian mole penetrates the Nazis’ secret intelligence operation during the second world war.
The name of the mole — Max Otto von Stirlitz — has become a synonym for secret service agents, known as razvedchiki.