SHE’S the “Russian Paris Hilton” who has posed for Playboy, hosted reality shows and has (literally) written the book on how to marry an oligarch.
Now Ksenia Sobchak has her sights on a new goal — taking down Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
The 36-year-old socialite turned political journalist is one several candidates running against the all-powerful leader on the March 18 elections that could see Mr Putin return for a fourth term.
While polls have her at just one per cent compared to 73 per cent for the incumbent leader, her candidacy has generated huge interest and even sparked suspicion she is a decoy designed to help boost turnout after jailed opposition leader Alexei Nalvany, urged his supporters to stay home.
MORE: Putin’s wealth revealed ahead of elections
Instead, Ms Sobchak has been using her celebrity brand to make sure people get out and vote.
“The only stupid thing we can do is stay at home because I don’t know a single election in the world that was changed by staying at home,” she told Vice earlier this month.
WHO IS SHE?
The former socialite who hosted the Russian version of Big Brother, appeared as a judge in Russia’s Next Top Model, and posed pregnant and naked for Tatler said she knows “the rules of how brand works” and is not afraid to use her profile to gain attention.
She’s also quick to point out she’s been working as a political journalist for more than a decade and the White House is also no stranger to television and film stars.
“This socialite life, it happened more than 15 years ago and 15 years of political journalism is more than enough to come to another step in my life,” she told Vice.
Her Instagram account shows her at a mix of glamorous fashion events and political rallies.
She has recently travelled to the US to make her case to Russian expats and hired a former campaign manager from Bernie Sanders for her bid.
Ms Sobchak has also campaigned to legalise gay marriage and marijuana, and wants to see sweeping reform of Russia’s system that she claims has given too much power to one man.
“Russia faces the task of moving from a super-presidential republic, where the powers of all branches of power are in fact and inevitably concentrated in the hands of one person, to full-fledged parliamentary democracy,” she said.
CONSPIRACY TH EORIES
But her political background and pro-vote message have led to speculation she may not be all she seems. Her father, Anatoly Sobchak, is the former mayor of St Petersburg and mentored Vladimir Putin when he was a student, leading to claims she could be a “decoy” candidate designed to boost turnout and help push Mr Putin over the 50 per cent line in the first round of the elections that would remove the need for a second vote.
She has denied reports the current President is her godfather and said there are no “alliances with authorities” in her campaign.
“The only link I have with Putin is when I was a 10-year-old girl … and some guy came with my father and did something, dealing with the city,” she previously told the BBC.
“I believe in this overturning election point. I want those elections to be a kind of referendum for trust for Mr Putin.”
With polls firmly against her, Sobchak is prepared for the fact that “you can’t win in a casino” and may consider a parliamentary run.
“[You] can’t win dealing with Putin. But still, this is a big change to say out loud what you think,” she told Foreign Policy on a recent US visit.
It comes as a series of racy advertisements encouraging young men to vote were featured in men’s magazine Maxim. Videos show barely dressed women asking, “Are you sure you’re already 18?” and, “All that happens at the polling station will remain at the polling station.”
Maxim editor-in-chief Alexander Malenkov confirmed to The Sun the advertisements were part of a “special business project” for an unknown client and the fee had not been revealed.
He admitted it looked “a bit absurd” but said it was “one of numerous compromises” he had to make.