Moscow, Russia: Russian TV personality Ksenia Sobchak, who has been described by Vogue magazine as the Russian version of U.S. socialite Paris Hilton, announced on Wednesday, that will run in next year’s presidential election, a move that would likely boost public interest in the race but could further fragment the nation’s beleaguered opposition.
Sobchak, first became known as a socialite and a fashion icon before she launched her successful TV career.
Sobchak is the daughter of Anatoly Sobchak, the reformist former mayor of St Petersburg who hired Putin as an official in City Hall in the 1990s. Sobchak, who died in 2000, became a mentor to Putin. Sobchak’s mother, Lyudmila Narusova, sits in the upper house of the Russian parliament.
Ksenia Sobchak announced her intention to become a candidate in March’s election in a YouTube video, arguing that Russia has grown tired of its current political elite and needs a change.
In the video clip posted online on Wednesday evening, Sobchak, said she had the right to run for Russia’s top political job under the country’s constitution, which stipulates that all candidates must be 35 or older.
“I decided to exercise that right because I am against all of those (candidates) who usually exercise that right,” she said.
“When I was 18 and was studying in university, Vladimir Putin became president of Russia. Children who were born that year will go and vote themselves this year. Just think about that.”
Sharp-tongued and witty, Sobchak has been often critical of the Russian government. She joined anti-Kremlin protests in Moscow in 2011-2012 but has largely avoided criticizing President Vladimir Putin, who once worked as her father’s deputy.
Sobchak told Dozhd TV that she had warned Putin that she planned to join the race while interviewing him recently for a documentary about her father.
“I had an impression he didn’t like it,” she said of Putin’s reaction.
Ksenia Sobchak’s Instagram account, often featuring photographs of her dressed in designer outfits and appearing at glitzy society events, has 5.2 million followers.
After graduating from the prestigious MGIMO University in Moscow, she became a nationwide celebrity when she hosted a Russian reality TV show called Dom 2.
She became active in opposition politics around the time that Putin, in 2012, was re-elected to the presidency after stepping down for four years to comply with constitutional term limits.
She appeared at opposition rallies, spoke out against the Kremlin on social media, and recast herself as a news anchor for the Rain broadcaster.
Putin, 65, hasn’t yet said whether he will seek re-election on March 18 but he’s widely expected to run. With approval ratings topping 80 percent, Putin would win in landslide against torpid veterans of past Russian presidential campaigns, like Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, ultra nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky or liberal Grigory Yavlinsky. They have all signaled their intentions to run again in 2018.
When rumors about Sobchak’s intentions first appeared recently, Russia’s most popular opposition leader, , warned her on YouTube that she would play into the Kremlin’s hands if she enters the race. Navalny is currently serving a 20-day jail term for organizing an unsanctioned protest.
Navalny has also declared his intention to enter Russia’s presidential race, even though a criminal conviction that he calls politically motivated bars him from running. The 41-year-old anti-corruption crusader has organized a grassroots campaign across Russia to support his nomination. It has organized waves of protests this year, putting pressure on the Kremlin.
Sobchak has rejected Navalny’s criticism, saying that if he is allowed to run she would consider withdrawing her candidacy in his favor. She has cast herself as a “candidate against all,” appealing to broad public dismay with Russia’s tightly-controlled and corrupt political system.
Like other self-nominated candidates, Sobchak needs to gather 300,000 signatures to get registered for the race. Those nominated by parties represented in parliament don’t need to do that.
The candidates haven’t reached the formal registration stage so there is no exact count of their number yet.
Sobchak wouldn’t discuss possible sources of funding for her campaign in a nation as vast as Russia, but her high-level connections in Russia’s business world could help her bid.
The Kremlin has said she is eligible to run in the election.