(CNN)Her father mentored Putin. She made it big as a socialite and reality TV star. Now Ksenia Sobchak, self-styled opposition stalwart, wants to replace President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin.
She’s described in the media as Russia’s Paris Hilton, and penned a book titled “How to Marry a Millionaire,” but rejects the comparison to Hilton out of hand: Paris Hilton, for one, has never had her house raided by the authorities, she said.
Her opposition bona fides are not totally lacking. She told Amanpour that starting with participating in massive opposition protests in 2011 and 2012 — her “fight against the regime” — she gained legitimacy.
Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, who himself has been barred from running, nonetheless has choice words for Sobchak.
Her candidacy, Navalny said, according to Reuters, is a “fairly loathsome Kremlin game that goes by the title of: ‘Let’s put a liberal laughingstock up for the elections in order to distract attention.'”
An embezzlement charge against Navalny has kept him from running for president; he says that charge is politically motivated, and intended to prevent him from running. Sobchak has pledged to step aside if Navalny is allowed to run.
Sobchak told Amanpour that she wants to “make a huge democratic coalition,” and pointed out that Navalny made those comments before she declared her candidacy.
“I spoke with Navalny and I hope he will agree with me,” she said. “What is our second option? Just stay at home and don’t go to the election? It’s not an option.”
‘Russia is responsible’
Many of her ideas are indeed antithetical to President Putin’s.
For example, she told Amanpour that Russia is at fault for bad relations with the United States.
“Crimea is Ukrainian by international law,” she said. Putin, who annexed the peninsula, believes a 2014 vote orchestrated by Moscow legitimized his move.
‘I don’t need anyone’s approval’
The doubt cast on her candidacy stems not only from the fact that her father, Anatoly Sobchak, as mayor of Saint Petersburg, mentored Vladimir Putin and brought him from the KGB into politics.
Sobchak also told Putin, personally, of her decision to run before formally announcing, and has generally stopped short of attacking Putin personally.
“I don’t need anyone’s approval for going to elections,” she insisted, explaining that she happened to be interviewing Putin for a documentary she is doing on her father, and decided to bring up her candidacy.
“I found it’s appropriate to say face to face that I will challenge Putin on these elections. But I don’t need any admittance or I don’t need to ask about this.”
In a 2012 interview, Sobchak told Amanpour she was “not against Putin.”
“I’m against [the] system,” she said at the time. “And I don’t think that Putin and system are all the same.”
Navalny is far from her only critic.
Her participation in those protests of 2011-12 was at the urging of the writer Oleg Kashin, according to his version of events. He thought that, as a celebrity, she would “attract her fans to the protest.”
Now, Kashin says, Sobchak has become a stooge used by the Kremlin to legitimize next March’s presidential election. Putin has not yet declared his candidacy, but opinion polls suggest he would win easily.
Putin “sees no glory in defeating the usual run of puppet buffoons,” Kashin wrote recently in The New York Times. “That’s why the Kremlin seeks fresh faces each time. … The fresh face this time will be Ms. Sobchak.”
“Thank you for the compliment about the fresh face,” Sobchak responded. “Because I really believe that Russia needs a fresh face, a new generation, to be seen on the political stage.”
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