Anatoly Sobchak, who died in 2000, was Putin’s boss and political mentor. In 1990, Sobchak hired Putin, then a KGB agent, as deputy mayor, and the two families remained close for a decade.
Ksenia Sobchak now heads the Ostorozhno Novosti project, which includes a network of Telegram news channels, a podcast studio, a YouTube channel, and Sobchak’s own social page. He has long straddled the fence between Russia’s political elite and its liberal political opposition, drawing distrust from both camps. In 2018, he ran for president against Putin and won about 2 percent of the vote.
Sobchak’s current legal troubles seem to reflect tensions within the well-connected elite, as well as a climate of heightened anxiety over Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine. He also emphasized that many well-to-do Russians are rushing to get dual citizenship and a second passport.
Sobchak, along with other Baltic states such as Belarus and then EU member Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, is a zone effectively closed to Russian travelers, even those with an EU Schengen visa. Only Russian citizens with dual citizenship or a humanitarian visa and residence permit can enter.
But Sobchak, who is of half-Jewish heritage, used an Israeli passport to cross the border, Lithuania’s Interior Ministry confirmed on Thursday. A surveillance video of Sobchak entering Lithuania on foot and talking to border agents appeared on Telegram channels.
Earlier this week, police raided Sobchak’s residence outside Moscow and arrested Kirill Sukhanov, its commercial director.
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Russian state media reported that investigators charged Sukhanov and Arian Romanovsky, former editor of the Russian edition of Tatler magazine, with bribery following a complaint by Sergei Chemezov, a Putin ally who heads the state-owned military and defense company Rostec.
The state TASS news agency, based on the case files, reported that the investigators accused Sukhanov and Romanovsky of publishing a post on one of the Telegram channels that “contains information that seriously harms the rights and legal interests” of Chemezov, and then demanded. It costs 11 million rubles (about $180,000) to delete the post.
TASS reported that investigators also implicated Sobchak in an extortion scheme and issued a warrant for his arrest, but he hid them. “He left Moscow on Tuesday evening and first bought online tickets to Dubai and Turkey and tried to confuse the operatives,” said sources in the law enforcement agencies, citing unnamed sources.
The Washington Post could not independently verify the claims.
Sobchak denied the allegations in a statement. “What kind of extortion, from whom?” What does this have to do with Rostek,” Sobchak wrote on the Telegram blog. “It is clear that this is a raid on my editorial office, the last free editorial office in Russia to be closed.”
“Hopefully that’s not the case and it’s all a misunderstanding,” he added, cutting a diplomatic line that would allow the investigators pursuing him to be sidelined by higher authorities.
This is not the first time that Sobchak’s home has been raided by law enforcement, nor is it the first time that they have tried to silence him as a commentator and opposition figure.
In 2012, his Moscow apartment was raided as part of a crackdown on Russian opposition activists, including Alexei Navalny, who is serving a long prison term after surviving a poison attack by Russian security agents in August 2020.
It is known that Sobchak opened the door to the police in a sloppy outfit and the agents took about 1.5 million dollars, dollars and euros from his safe. “They are coming out to silence me,” he later told reporters.
Sobchak grew up among the elite in St. Petersburg, and from an early age he knew dozens of contemporary politicians and ministers.
Before the 2012 raid, he was considered immune due to his fame and family ties to Putin. In recent years, unlike many other critics of the Kremlin, he has sought to build a wider audience outside the state-controlled media and enjoyed immunity from prosecution.
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Sobchak is a polar figure in Russian independent media and opposition circles. She first rose to fame as a reality TV host in the early 2000s, building a scandalous image compared to the Russian Hilton.
After taking part in the anti-Kremlin “white ribbon” campaign that erupted in late 2011 and continued into 2012, he rebranded himself as an opposition figure, handing over the top job in the wake of election fraud and Putin’s return to the presidency after four years. Dmitry Medvedev served as prime minister instead.
Tens of thousands of people gathered in Bolotnaya Square and elsewhere in Moscow in the largest demonstrations since the fall of the Soviet Union. But Putin eventually cracked down on the opposition, using increasingly repressive measures such as arrests and prosecutions.
Sobchak has often been a vocal critic of Putin and his policies, but many opposition figures accuse him of simultaneously trying to appease liberals and the Kremlin.
For years, Putin has faced “loyal” opponents in his presidential races, and the Russian opposition saw Sobchak’s decision to run in 2018 as a Kremlin ploy to siphon liberal votes and create a facade of democracy after officials banned Navalny. the main enemy, from running.
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The investigative news agency Project reported that the 2020 campaign was closely coordinated with the presidential administration, and Sobchak himself denied asking 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 over 3 million subscribers.
The news of his quick departure from the country has already caused mixed reactions.
Pay attention to the comedy show “Sobchak in the Opposition 3.0” from the creators of the films “Sobchak na Bolotnaya” and “Sobchak the President”, Ivan Zhdanov, a partner of Navalny and director of his Anti-Corruption Foundation, wrote on Twitter. “Those who will buy this again are either not very smart or have bad intentions,” writes Zhdanov, who is in exile in Vilnius, Lithuania to avoid arrest. “Don’t be fooled.”
But Oleksandr Rodnyansky, a Ukrainian film and TV producer who worked in Russia for decades before the war, gave a more sympathetic assessment on his Instagram blog.
“Sobchak had a large audience and no doubt he introduced liberal and Western ideas to it,” Rodnyansky wrote. “In the context of war and the systematic destruction of civil society, I think anyone who has to flee persecution deserves support.”