Ksenia Sobchak, Russian TV star linked to Putin, fled using Israeli passport

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Ksenia Sobchak, a Russian socialite and TV host with close ties to President Vladimir Putin, used her dual Israeli citizenship to flee Russia on Tuesday after a police raid on her home that Russian authorities said was linked to a criminal investigation into two of her people. business partners.

Sobchak, 40, who rose to fame as a reality TV star and was known for years as Russia’s “It Girl” and Russian Paris Hiltonis the daughter of Anatoly Sobchak, the first post-Soviet mayor of St. Petersburg.

in 2000 the deceased Anatoly Sobchak was V. Putin’s boss and political mentor. In 1990, Sobchak hired then-KGB agent Putin 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 page. She has long straddled the fence between Russia’s political elite and its liberal political opposition, drawing some distrust from both camps. In 2018, she ran for president against Putin, garnering about 2 percent of the vote.

Sobchak’s current legal troubles appeared to reflect tensions within the well-connected elite, as well as a climate of heightened anxiety over Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine. She also emphasized that many affluent Russians feel the urgent need to obtain dual citizenship and a second passport.

Sobchak fled to Belarus, and then Lithuania, which is a member of the European Union and, along with the other Baltic states of Latvia and Estonia, is effectively closed to Russian travelers – even those with previously issued visas allowing them to enter the European Union’s Schengen area. zone. Only two citizens or Russian citizens with humanitarian visas and residence permits can enter.

However, Sobchak, who is partly of Jewish origin, used her Israeli passport to cross the border, the Ministry of the Interior of Lithuania confirmed on Thursday. A video from a surveillance camera appeared on Telegram channels, showing Sobchak entering Lithuania on foot and talking to border officials.

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Earlier this week, police raided Sobchak’s residence outside Moscow and arrested its commercial director, Kirill Sukhanov, who was ordered held until the end of December.

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According to Russian state media, investigators charged Sukhanov and Ariana Romanovsky, former editor of the Russian edition of Tatler magazine, with extortion after a complaint by Putin ally Sergei Chemezov, head of state-owned military and defense contractor Rostec.

The state news agency Tass, citing data from the case, reported that investigators accused Sukhanov and Romanovsky of publishing a post on one of Telegram’s channels that “contains information that could cause serious damage to the rights and legitimate interests of Chemezov,” and then demanded 11 million rubles (about $180,000) to delete the record.

Investigators also implicated Sobchak in an extortion scheme, Tass reported, and issued a warrant for her arrest, but she eluded them. “She left Moscow late on Tuesday evening and initially bought tickets online to Dubai and Turkey to mislead staff,” the report said, citing unnamed law enforcement sources.

The Washington Post could not independently verify the claims.

In a statement, Sobchak denied the allegations. “What kind of extortion, from whom?” What does this have to do with Rostec,” Sobchak wrote in his Telegram blog. “Obviously, this is a raid on my editorial office, the last free editorial office in Russia, which had to be closed.

“We hope that’s not the case and that this is all a misunderstanding,” she added, taking a diplomatic line that appeared to allow her pursuers to overrule higher authorities.

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This is not the first time Sobchak’s home has been raided by law enforcement, nor is it the first time she claims efforts have been made to silence her as a commentator and opposition figure.

in 2012 her Moscow apartment was searched as part of a sweep against Russian opposition activists, including Alexei Navalny, who is now serving a lengthy sentence in a prison colony after surviving a poisoning attack allegedly carried out by Russian security agents in 2020. in August.

Sobchak is known to have answered the door to police wearing a skimpy outfit, and agents seized an estimated $1.5 million in cash, dollars and euros from her safe. She later told reporters: “They want to silence me.”

Sobchak grew up in St. Petersburg among the elite, from childhood he knew dozens of politicians and ministers.

Before the raid in 2012 she was largely considered untouchable given her fame and family ties to Putin. In recent years, she has appeared to continue to enjoy immunity from prosecution, unlike many other Kremlin critics who have tried to build a wide audience outside state-controlled media.

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Sobchak is a polarizing figure in Russia’s independent media and opposition circles. She first rose to fame as a reality TV host in the early 2000s, creating a scandalous image and being called the Hilton of Russia, a comparison she came to despise.

She rebranded herself as an opposition figure after participating in the “white ribbon” anti-Kremlin protests that began in 2011. at the end and continued in 2012. on election fraud and Putin’s return to the presidency after four years in which he ceded the top job. Dmitry Medvedev, acting as Prime Minister.

Tens of thousands of people protested in Bolotnaya Square and elsewhere in Moscow at the time, marking the biggest demonstrations since the fall of the Soviet Union. But Putin eventually crushed the opposition with increasingly repressive measures, including arrests and prosecutions.

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Sobchak has often been a scathing critic of Putin and his policies, but many opposition figures have accused her of trying to simultaneously appease liberals and the Kremlin.

Over the years, Putin often faced “loyal” opponents in his presidential elections, and the Russian opposition criticized Sobchak’s decision to run for office in 2018. seen as a ploy by the Kremlin to oust liberal votes and create a facade of democracy after officials banned Navalny, Putin. archenemy, from running.

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Investigative news agency Proekt reported in 2020 that the campaign was closely coordinated with the presidential administration, and Sobchak herself denied ever asking Putin or his aides for permission to run.

More recently, Sobchak has reinvented herself as a serious TV journalist and YouTube channel with over 3 million subscribers.

The news of her imminent departure from the country provoked a predictably mixed reaction.

“Beware Sobchak on Bolotnaya and Sobchak the President, Sobchak in Opposition 3.0,” tweeted Ivan Zhdanov, a Navalny ally and director of his anti-corruption foundation. “Those who will buy it again are either not very smart or have bad intentions,” wrote Ždanov, who lives in exile in Vilnius, Lithuania, to avoid arrest. “Don’t be fooled.”

But Ukrainian film and television producer Aleksandr Rodnyansky, who worked in Russia for decades before the war, offered a more sympathetic assessment on his Instagram blog.

“Sobchak had a huge audience and undoubtedly offered it liberal and Western ideas,” Rodnyansky wrote. “With war and the systematic destruction of civil society, in my opinion, anyone who has to flee persecution deserves to be supported.”


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