Anatoly Sobchak, who died in 2000, was Putin’s boss and political mentor. In 1990, Sobchak hired Putin, then a KGB operative, as deputy mayor, and the two families remained close throughout the decade.
Ksenia Sobchak now runs the “Ostorozhno Novosti” project, which includes a network of Telegram news channels, a podcast studio, a YouTube channel and Sobchak’s own social media pages. She has long straddled the fence between Russia’s political elite and the liberal political opposition, which has created some mistrust of her in both camps. In 2018, she ran against Putin for president, winning about 2 percent of the vote.
Sobchak’s current legal troubles appear to reflect tensions within the close-knit elite and a climate of heightened anxiety in Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine. It also underscores the urgency that many wealthy Russians feel about obtaining dual citizenship and a second passport.
Sobchak fled to Belarus, and then Lithuania, a member of the European Union, along with other Baltic states of Latvia and Estonia, was effectively closed to Russian tourists — even those who previously held visas that would allow them to travel into the EU’s Schengen area. Only dual citizens or Russian nationals with humanitarian visas and residence permits can enter.
But the Lithuanian Interior Ministry confirmed on Thursday that Sobchak, who is partly of Jewish descent, used her Israeli passport to cross the border. A video from a surveillance camera appeared on the Telegram channel showing Sobchak walking into Lithuania and talking to border officials.
Earlier this week, police raided Sobchak’s residence outside Moscow and arrested her commercial director, Kirill Sukhanov, who was ordered to remain in pretrial detention until late December.
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Investigators have charged Sukhanov and Arian Romanovsky, the former editor of Russia’s Tatler magazine, with extortion following allegations made by Putin ally Sergey Chemezov, Russian state media reported. blackmail.
State-run news agency TASS reported, citing case records, that investigators accused Sukhanov and Romanovsky of publishing a post on one of the Telegram channels that “contained material that could have serious implications for Chemezov’s rights and legitimate interests. Damaged information” and then demanded 11 million rubles (about $180,000) to delete the post.
Investigators also implicated Sobchak in a racketeering scheme and issued a warrant for her arrest, but she avoided them, TASS reported. “She left Moscow late on Tuesday night, initially buying tickets online to Dubai and Turkey to confuse the agents,” the report said, citing an unnamed law enforcement source.
The Washington Post was unable to independently verify the claims.
Sobchak denied the allegations in a statement. “What blackmail, from whom? What does this have to do with Rostec,” Sobchak wrote on her Telegram blog. “Obviously this was a raid on my newsroom, the last free newsroom in Russia, and had to be closed.”
“Hopefully that’s not the case, it’s a complete misunderstanding,” she added, sticking to a diplomatic line that appeared to allow investigators pursuing her to be overruled by higher authorities.
This is not the first time Sobchak’s home has been raided by law enforcement, nor is it the first time she has claimed to have tried to silence her as a commentator and opposition figure.
In 2012, her apartment in Moscow was raided as part of a sweep of Russian opposition activists including Alexei Navalny, who allegedly killed him in 2020. He survived a poisoned attack by Russian security agents in August 2008 and is currently serving a sentence in prison.
Sobchak is known for opening doors for police in her pajamas, and agents seized about $1.5 million in cash, including dollars and euros, from her safe. “They were trying to silence me,” she later told reporters.
Sobchak grew up in St. Petersburg. St. Petersburg is part of an elite that has known dozens of current politicians and ministers since childhood.
Before the 2012 raid, she was largely considered untouchable given her reputation and ties to Putin’s family. In recent years, she appears to have continued to enjoy immunity from prosecution, unlike many critics of the Kremlin, who have sought to build a broad audience outside the state-controlled media.
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In Russia’s independent media and opposition circles, Sobchak is a polarizing figure. She first rose to fame as a reality TV host in the early 2000s, establishing a shameful image compared to Russia’s Hilton – a comparison she came to despise.
She repositioned herself as an opposition figure after taking part in the “White Ribbon” anti-Kremlin protests that erupted in late 2011, which continued in 2012 over electoral fraud and Putin’s move to the top job four years later Return to the presidency after being demoted to the presidency. Dmitry Medvedev, also serving as Prime Minister.
Tens of thousands of people protested in Bolotnaya Square and other locations in Moscow, the largest demonstration since the collapse of the Soviet Union. But Putin eventually crushed the opposition, with increasing repression, including arrests and prosecutions.
Sobchak has often been a cautious critic of Putin and his policies, but many in the opposition accuse her of trying to appease liberals and the Kremlin at the same time.
Putin has often faced “loyal” opponents in the presidential race over the years, with the Russian opposition seeing Sobchak’s decision to run in 2018 as the Kremlin sucking out liberals after officials banned Putin’s President Navalny A tactic of casting votes and creating a facade of democracy. The number one nemesis comes from running.
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Investigative news outlet Proekt reported in 2020 that the campaign was in close coordination with the president’s administration, while Sobchak herself denied that she had asked Putin or his aides for permission to run.
More recently, Sobchak has reinvented himself as a serious TV journalist and host of a YouTube channel with more than 3 million subscribers.
News of her swift departure from the country drew predictably conflicting reactions.
“From the makers of ‘Sobchak on Bolotnaya’ and ‘Sobchak the President’, pay attention to the comedy show ‘Sobchak In Opposition 3.0’,” Ivan Zhdanov, a Navalny ally and director of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, tweeted. To avoid arrest, Zhdanov, who lives in exile in Vilnius, Lithuania, wrote: “Those who are willing to accept this again are either not very smart or have malicious intentions.” “Don’t be fooled.”
But Alexander Rodnyansky, a Ukrainian film and television producer who worked in Russia for decades before the war, offered a more sympathetic assessment on his Instagram blog.
“Sobchak has a large audience, and there is no doubt that she offers liberal and Western ideas,” Rodnyansky wrote. “Anyone who has to flee persecution should be supported, in my opinion, with war and the destruction of civil society systems.”