Reality TV star Ksenia Sobchak’s candidacy for next year’s Russian presidential election brings ‘legitimacy’ to the process for ordinary citizens, a leading expert told SBS News amid claims she was brought in by the Kremlin to split the opposition.
Sobchak, 35, on Tuesday unveiled her plans to run against Vladamir Putin at the presidential election in March.
The television personality was dubbed by Vogue magazine as the Russian version of US socialite Paris Hilton.
The daughter of a former mayor of St Petersburg, for whom Putin once worked, said she does not expect to beat Putin – the runaway favorite for re-election in the poll if he chooses to run again.
Some opposition activists including Putin-critic Alexei Navalny, claim she was a Kremlin “project” designed to split the opposition, something she vehemently denies.
Russian TV host Ksenia Sobchak, daughter of the late Russian politician Anatoly Sobchak, speaks during a press conference in Moscow, Russia (AAP)AAP
“I tell you honestly: I‘m running against everyone, and this refers to Vladimir Putin,” she told a news conference as she unveiled her campaign team. But she added: “I personally will not insult Putin.”
“For some, he is a tyrant and dictator… but for me this is a person who, first of all, helped my father in a difficult situation and de facto saved his life,” she said.
She did however state her opposition to Putin possibly running for a fourth term in power.
“I am against the corrupt system which was built in our country during these years and I am against anyone, including Putin, being in power for 18 years.”
“The fact that the country has no fair elections is the result of those 18 years.”
“It will be easy to present that picture of her simply because of the closeness of Putin with Sobchak’s father, they were very close and Putin worked for Sobchak’s father for a number of years in St Petersburg,” he told SBS News.
“If she does see herself as having any career in politics, what she needs to do is set herself apart from Putin but not completely break the ties with Putin, because Putin can be useful for her later on.”
Professor Gill said Putin would win the election if he ran, but admitted that Sobchak’s candidacy brings “legitimacy” to the election for ordinary citizens.
“It’s pretty clear that Putin is going to win; it would be a remarkable turn-up if he didn’t,” he said.
“It would mean that the whole system would cease to function in a way in which it had been over the last 10 or 15 years.
“Sobchak’s participation does give it a sense of legitimacy that it might otherwise not have had. The leading opposition figure Alexei Navalny says he’s going to run for presidency, but he’s legally forbidden to do so.
“She brings a public name, which most people in Russia will recognise, but it’s also a name that most of them won’t have any connection much with politics, so in that sense she’s really a reality TV star in the same way that Trump is. And therefore it’s difficult to see what she’s actually going to bring to the election, except perhaps a bit of glamour because the other candidates, none of them are particularly aspiring at this stage.”
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny (R) shows his handcuffed hands during a hearing at the Moscow City Court in Moscow, Russia, 30 March 2017 (AAP) AAP
Professor Gill said the only way for Sobchak to gain popularity with the electorate was to focus on the “nuts and bolts” issues, such as the economy, the need for economic change and the need for improvement in the standard of living.
“If she sees herself as running as an alternative to Putin, she’s going to have to generate a policy,” he said.
“If instead, she’s running as a stalking horse for Putin, well then she won’t do that, she’ll simply flounce around and make generalised statements.”
Connection to Putin
Sobchak is the daughter of Anatoly Sobchak, a reformist Petersburg mayor who hired Putin as an official in City Hall in the 1990s. Sobchak became his mentor.
Sobchak lost the mayor’s job in a 1996 election. He later moved to France and became the subject of a criminal investigation in Russia for receiving bribes and abuse of office. He denied wrongdoing, saying the case was politically-motivated.
The case against him was dropped in 1999, soon after Putin became prime minister. When Sobchak died in 2000, Putin attended his funeral.
Opinion polls show that Putin, 65, who has dominated Russian politics for nearly two decades, will comfortably win re-election if, as most analysts expect, he decides to seek a fourth term in March. He has so far kept silent about his plans.