Russian television star and journalist Ksenia Sobchak announced on Wednesday she will run for president in the country’s 2018 election ― a bid that may spark voter interest but hinder efforts to unseat Vladimir Putin. Known as “the Paris Hilton of Russia,” 35-year-old Sobchak promoted her candidacy in a Russian-language YouTube video. The fashion icon-turned-politician said the country needs a change from its current political elite, according to The Associated Press.
Some analysts, however, suspect her presidential bid is part of a Krelim-backed plot to divide the opposition to Putin, who is widely expected to seek another term as president.
Sobchak maintains she made her decision to run independently and denies being in collusion with Putin or his allies.
But Alexei Navalny, an anti-corruption blogger and prominent Putin foe, expressed scepticism about Sobchak’s motives, according to the AP.
Putin and his supporters “need a cartoonish liberal candidate at a time when they don’t want to allow me to enter the race,” Navalny said. He is serving a 20-day jail term for organizing an unsanctioned protest and is prohibited from seeking the presidency because of a prior criminal conviction that he says was politically motivated.
Sobchak said she supports Navalny but dismissed his criticism.
In an interview on Russia’s TV Rain on Wednesday, she said: “Over the past 17 years, a whole new generation has grown up that wants to see a different Russia that is civilized and European.”
Sobchak’s late father, one-time St. Petersburg mayor Anatoly Sobchak, was Putin’s political mentor. But she has protested against Putin’s iron-grip on the Russian government for several years. She said she seeks support from “those who want to vote against everyone.”
Putin became Russia’s prime minister in 1999 and then first won the presidency in 2000, serving in that post until 2008. After four more years as prime minister, he was again elected president in 2012.
He has not yet announced whether he plans to seek another six-year term in 2018, though most observers consider that a foregone conclusion. Enjoying remarkably high approval ratings ― no doubt in part because state-run media outlets are uncritical of the Kremlin ― he would be heavily favored to win.
Others who have indicated they will run for the presidency include ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, liberal Grigory Yavlinsky and Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov.
Sobchak said Wednesday that she met Putin recently and informed him of her candidacy plans. He “did not look happy,” she said.
As an independent candidate, Sobchak will need to collect at least 300,000 signatures from Russian citizens to qualify as a candidate. The first round of voting is set for March 18.