Meet the Russian presidential candidate who’s not afraid to take on Putin
Win McNamee/Getty Images(MOSCOW) — She has more than 5 million Instagram followers. She’s a regular attendee at Paris and Milan’s fashion weeks. She’s been referred to as “Russia’s Paris Hilton.” But 36-year-old Ksenia Sobchak has a new goal: running against Vladimir Putin for president of Russia.
“My campaign is called a ‘no fear’ campaign,” Sobchak said Tuesday at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. “I am not afraid of Putin, so I go and challenge him on the elections.”
Sobchak is visiting the United States this week, a little more than a month ahead of the Russian election, scheduled for March 18.
She brushed off concerns about being branded an American stooge, as previous opposition candidates have been — and that being seen with Americans is usually an unpopular move for Russian presidential candidates.
“I am always getting messages that I am paid by America, that I work for America, that I am connected with CIA — blah, blah, blah,” Sobchak said. “I am not working for America. I am working for my country’s good, but America is not an enemy for me. I am here to show that there are people who are ready for talking, for discussing your problems, for solving them. I am here to say Russia is not Putin.”
Sobchak’s worldview is counter to the direction that Vladimir Putin has taken Russia for nearly two decades. She is running on a globalist, liberal platform, calling for cooperation not only with the U.S., but also with NATO and the European Union. She advocates for the privatization of state-owned businesses and media, and reform of the court system.
Sobchak admitted that she has almost no chance of winning the election. But she has been allowed to run when others have not. The main opposition candidate in Russia, Alexei Navalny, gathered significant support before being barred from running because of a fraud conviction he insists is a politically motivated tactic to keep him off the ballot.
Sobchak said she is independent and free from corruption.
“I’m really a self-made businesswoman. I could never have any corruption from the state because I never had any business with the state,” Sobchak said.
Critics, however, point out that Sobchak’s father was a former mayor of St. Petersburg and a mentor to a young Vladimir Putin. Sobchak maintained that her father left office when he was defeated in election, which proves he was not corrupt, rather than try to maintain power at any cost.
“This is what happens in Russia. It’s like Hotel California — you can check in anytime you like, but you can never leave,” Sobchak joked, referring to the classic Eagles song.
Sobchak is often compared to another television star who ran for office: President Donald Trump. But she criticized world leaders, including Trump, who she said will legitimize Putin’s re-election by calling to congratulate him if he wins.
“I am positively sure Trump will call Mr. Putin on the phone and … say, ‘Hello Mr. Putin, I congratulate you on becoming the president of Russia,’” Sobchak said.
Sobchak is unafraid to speak up about some topics that are taboo in her country, such as her support for LGBT rights in Russia.
“I am the only candidate who supports the sexual minorities in Russia,” she said. “I vote for them to be married in a moment where most people want them again to go to prison just for doing this.”
Though she knows this is an unpopular opinion in socially conservative Russia, Sobchak said she feels it’s important to just speak out.
“Even if I cannot win now, I think speaking out loud about those liberal values that are very important for me is already something big for my country, because they’ve never heard someone saying this, being a politician, campaigning in a presidential campaign.”
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