Is there future fame in Russia for the two men accused of poisoning a former spy in Britain?
The pair, who British authorities identify as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, broke their silence Thursday in an interview with the Kremlin-friendly Russia Today network, griping about the weather in Salisbury and claiming they never heard of Sergei Skripal before the incident in March that left Skirpal and his daughter critically injured.
Yet the last time Britain accused two Russians of an assassination, one of them, Andrei Lugovoi, astonishingly ended up in the Russian parliament. Other Russians accused of crimes abroad, such as spy Anna Chapman, also have found success since returning to their homeland.
The two men accused in the Skripal case already appear to have one key fan – Russian President Vladimir Putin, who on Wednesday urged the duo to come forward and tell their story.
"This would be best for everyone,” Putin was quoted by the BBC as saying. "There is nothing special there, nothing criminal, I assure you. We'll see in the near future.”
As the Skripal case continues to unfold, here are other notable Russian figures who have received a warm welcome after getting in trouble abroad:
When the FBI rounded up 10 Russian sleeper agents in 2010 and sent them back home in a spy swap, one caught the eye of the tabloids – and she has kept her name in the media since.
The then-28-year-old Chapman, who was married to a British man, managed to launch a modeling career in Russia, and was briefly on the board of the youth arm of a pro-Putin political party.
The Associated Press reports that she is best known, however, as the host of “Chapman’s Secrets,” a long-running show mixing anti-American rhetoric with conspiracy theories and mysticism.
“Why does official science still not concede that unidentified flying objects are alien spaceships?” she said in one episode. “Our hypothesis that alien intelligence has long colluded with the ruling elite was recently and unexpectedly confirmed. What are politicians and soldiers keeping quiet about? I, Anna Chapman, will reveal this secret.”
More than 400 episodes of the show have been made. Last week, guests speculated the U.S. was training Eastern European guerrillas to invade Russia, and another guest — introduced as a shaman — suggested intelligent trees caused hikers to go missing out of spite for humanity.
“It’s incredible, but the living forest from the movie ‘Avatar’ isn’t the director’s make-believe,” Chapman summarized.
Chapman also made headlines in 2013 after tweeting "[Edward] Snowden, will you marry me?" to the notorious National Security Agency leaker, who fled the U.S. and now lives in Russia.
She also ripped the West this summer as Russia hosted the 2018 World Cup.
“I would like to thank FIFA for this amazing experience [and] all foreigners for coming to Russia,” Chapman said. “We loved having you and [definitely] gonna miss the vibe. You turned our country into a place of celebration, happiness and land of sport lovers.”
Chapman added World Cup fans got to see what Russia truly is like, despite “the propaganda efforts from the West.”
She marked another, more personal, milestone in July: The eighth anniversary of her release from a New York jail. She called the occasion her "second birthday."
Accused of poisoning and killing ex-KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 with radioactive tea in London, Lugovoi, a former KGB officer, parlayed his newfound fame into a political career. In 2007, he was elected to parliament on the ticket of the nationalist LDPR party, which has strong Kremlin ties.
The switch to serving in government has also been a safeguard for Lugovoi, as the Russian constitution bans extraditing criminal suspects. Lugovoi’s status as a lawmaker makes him immune from prosecution at home, according to the Associated Press.
While in office, Lugovoi has also lent his name to the Lugovoi Law — a 2014 measure allowing authorities to block “extremist” websites without a court ruling — and he’s a regular commentator on state TV regarding the Skripal case.
He has long maintained his innocence in the Litvinenko poisoning, and in 2016 called the accusations “absurd."
"The results of the inquiry made public today once again confirm London's anti-Russian stance, tunnel thinking and the unwillingness of the British to establish the true cause of Litvinenko's death,” he was quoted by the AFP as saying at the time.
Lugovoi has also argued that Skripal’s poisoning had nothing to do with Russia and blames Britain for harboring people he calls defectors.
“As long as you keep welcoming all kinds of scum on your territory, you’re going to keep having problems,” he said in March on a popular talk show.
Accused of working as an undeclared foreign agent in the U.S., Butina is quickly becoming a cause celebre at home.
She was a relatively obscure gun-rights activist in Russia before she started making political contacts among Republicans and National Rifle Association members in the U.S. Now, Butina’s photo is the avatar on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s social media profiles.
“#FreeMariaButina” reads a hashtag next to her face in the account’s profile picture.
Government rhetoric portrays her as a martyr to U.S. paranoia and a victim of poor conditions in the Washington, D.C., jail where she’s being held pending trial.
Russian ombudsperson Tatiana Moskalkova, in an interview with the TASS news agency in late August, claimed Butina's treatment was "inhumane and degrading.”
She said Butina "was subjected to a degrading inspection, made to undress, transferred in chains without warning or explanation, placed into quarantine, where she spent 12 hours with no food or light, and now she is in solitary confinement."
Fox News’ Ryan Gaydos and the Associated Press contributed to this report.