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 a close family connection 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 of two of them. business partners

Sobchak, 40, who rose to fame as a reality TV star and has been known over the years as Russia’s “It Girl” and Paris Hilton from Russiashe is the daughter of the first post-Soviet mayor of St. Petersburg, Anatoly Sobchak.

Anatoly Sobchak, who died in 2000, was Putin’s political boss and mentor. In 1990, Sobchak hired then-KGB agent Putin as deputy mayor, and the two families remained close throughout the 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 media page. She has long been straddling Russia’s political elite and its liberal political opposition, creating a degree of mistrust of her from both camps. In 2018, he ran for president against Putin, winning around 2% of the vote.

Sobchak’s current legal troubles appeared to reflect tension within the well-connected elite, as well as a climate of heightened anxiety amid Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine. He also highlighted the urgency felt by many wealthy Russians to obtain dual citizenship and a second passport.

Sobchak fled to Belarus and then to 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 pre-issued entry visas Schengen of the European Union. area Only dual nationals or Russian nationals with humanitarian visas and residence permits can enter.

But Sobchak, who is of part Jewish heritage, used her Israeli passport to cross the border, Lithuania’s interior ministry confirmed on Thursday. A surveillance video emerged 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 his business director, Kirill Sukhanov, who was ordered to remain in custody until the end of December.

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According to Russian state media, investigators have charged Sukhanov and the former editor of the Russian edition of Tatler magazine, Arian Romanovsky, with extortion after a complaint by Sergey Chemezov, a Putin ally who heads a military contractor and state defense, Rostec.

State news agency Tass, citing the background of the cases, reported that investigators accused Sukhanov and Romanovski of publishing a post in one of the Telegram channels, “which contained information that could cause significant damage to legitimate rights and interests.” from Chemezov and then demand 11 million rubles (about $180,000) to remove the post.

Investigators also implicated Sobchak in the extortion scheme, Tass reported, and issued a warrant for her arrest, but she eluded them. “She left Moscow on Tuesday night, initially buying tickets online to Dubai and Turkey to confuse the officers,” the report said, citing unnamed police sources.

The Washington Post could not independently verify the claims.

In a statement, Sobchak rejected the allegations. “What extortion, from whom? What does all this have to do with Rostec,” Sobchak wrote on his Telegram blog. “It is obvious that this is a raid on my newsroom, the last free newsroom in Russia, which had to be closed.” .

“Hopefully that’s not the case, and this is all a misunderstanding,” she added, cutting to a diplomatic line that would appear to allow investigators pursuing her to be overruled by 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 he has alleged an effort to silence her 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 now serving a long sentence in a prison colony after surviving a poisoning attack allegedly carried out by Russian security agents in August 2020.

Sobchak answered the door to police in a robe, and officers seized approximately $1.5 million in cash, in dollars and euros, from his safe. He later told reporters, “They’re going to shut me up.”

Sobchak grew up in St. Petersburg among the elites, having met dozens of now-politicians and ministers since she was a child.

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

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

He rebranded as an opposition figure after taking part in the anti-Kremlin “white ribbon” protests that erupted in late 2011 and continued into 2012 over election fraud and Putin’s subsequent return to power. presidency after four years in which he had relegated the first office to the presidency. Dmitry Medvedev, while serving as prime minister.

Tens of thousands of people protested in Bolotnaya Square and elsewhere in Moscow at the time, marking the largest demonstrations since the collapse 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 criticized Putin and his policies, but many opposition figures have accused her of trying to simultaneously appease liberals and the Kremlin.

Putin over the years has often faced “loyal” opponents in his presidential races, and the Russian opposition portrayed Sobchak’s decision to run in 2018 as a Kremlin ploy to siphon off liberal votes and create a facade of democracy after officials banned Navalny, Putin’s. main nemesis, running.

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

Most recently, Sobchak reinvented herself 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 provoked predictably mixed reactions.

“From the creators of ‘Sobchak on Bolotnaya’ and ‘Sobchak the President’ come the comedy show ‘Sobchak in the Opposition 3.0,'” tweeted Ivan Zhdanov, a Navalny ally and director of his Anti-Corruption Foundation. “Those who will accept this again are either not very smart or have bad intentions,” wrote Zhdanov, who lives in exile in Vilnius, Lithuania to avoid arrest. “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 had a large audience and she certainly offered him liberal and Western ideas,” Rodnyansky wrote. “In the conditions of war and the systematic destruction of civil society, anyone who has to flee persecution deserves to be supported, in my opinion.”



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