RUSSIA MONITOR

Date: 26 October 2017

Same Trick Again

Making comfortable rivals running for president has had a long tradition in Putin’s Russia. This time, a person who is going to stand against Vladimir Putin is Ksenia Sobchak, a socialite and journalist, who has showed her support to the Russian opposition for many years. Her candidacy is expected to undermine the divided opposition as well as to legitimate the elections and their winner.


© MAXIM SHIPENKOV PAP/EPA

A couple of days after Sobchak’s official declaration and a presentation of the election staff as well as the first interviews as a candidate for the next president of Russia, a few conclusions could be drawn on her political plans.

  • She was assigned the role of a candidate of the liberal opposition, including its part which is willing to enter in a dialogue with the West. Hence the words about the Ukrainian Crimea (even if Sobchak’s point of view in this matter does not seem to be clear).
  • Sobchak’s widely commented words on the Crimea and the relations with Ukraine constitute yet another element that puts her in opposition to Alexei Navalny, who claims that Russia should keep the peninsula. Sobchak will probably indirectly strike Navalny as a revolutionary and nationalist-populist candidate whereas she seems to advocate the ideas of evolution and dialogue. In this way, Sobchak seeks to gain approval of the Western countries.
  • Sobchak is supposed to improve the image of the presidential elections and to limit the criticism for blocking Navalny’s candidacy. And thus the Kremlin will be able to confirm that the opposition and the liberals have their own candidate. That is why Sobchak will attack the opposition candidates, including the Communist ones and the nationalist Zhirinovsky.
  • Moreover, Sobchak is expected to gather the urban electorate and to increase the turnout in Moscow and St. Petersburg.  She has no chance in the rural areas so, as for the whole country, she may obtain a result between five and seven percent. Her candidacy makes it difficult for Putin’s critics who call for a boycott of the elections.
  • Sobchak’s campaign involved many well-known spin-doctors, journalists and economists associated with Boris Yeltsin’s team.  Her running for office looks a lot like that of an oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov in 2012 who stood against Putin on a liberal platform. Not incidentally, some critics have commented her candidacy as “Prokhorov 2018”.
  • Sobchak’s running for office is controversial even for the opposition members. Not only radical politics (including Sergei Udaltsov and Alexei Navalny) but also the liberal ones (such as Grigory Yavlinsky and Sergei Mitrokhin) seemed to be against such a state of matters. However, the socialite has some political support from Dmitry Gudkov and Russia’s former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov.
  • Sobchak can be used as an element of the Kremlin’s internal politics. She will not attack Putin personally as she considers him as a close person for some family reasons. Instead, she can focus on “his” people. For instance, she has already attacked Vladislav Surkov, blaming him for the conflict with Ukraine.

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