Ksenia Sobchak, a famous Russian TV presenter, socialite and fashionista whose late father was a political mentor to Vladimir Putin, has announced plans to run as an opposition candidate in the March 2018 presidential election.
Although widely anticipated, the move has been met with dismay by Russian liberals, who fear that Ms Sobchak will be used by the Kremlin to confer some legitimacy on the election campaign that Mr Putin is certain to win.
In a video posted on YouTube on Wednesday night, Ms Sobchak said she would give Russia's beleaguered opposition a voice and challenge the stale, elderly politicians from mainstream parties who have been appearing at elections for decades. "If we don't do something to change, it will become dreadful, life will become unbearable," she said.
Mr Putin, who has served as Russia's paramount leader since 2000, is widely expected to win a fourth term at the election, although he has not yet confirmed he will stand. Other candidates are likely to include veteran members of Russia's political establishment such as Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov and nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who pose no real challenge to the Kremlin and, as Ms Sobchak put it on Wednesday, regularly lose presidential elections "with pleasure".
Alexey Navalny, Russia's most popular opposition politician, is likely to be prevented from standing as he is serving a suspended sentence for fraud that his supporters say was fabricated to exclude him from the presidential race.
Reports in Vedomosti, a respected Russian business daily, in September that the Kremlin was looking for a female candidate to bring some life to the election campaign have spawned rumours that Ms Sobchak, who participated in a wave of anti-government protests in Moscow in 2011-2012,would step up to fill the role.
Dilute the vote
Mr Navalny has implored Ms Sobchak to stay out of the election race, saying she would dilute the anti-Putin vote. Many of Mr Navalny’s mainly young supporters have threatened to boycott the poll if their candidate is not allowed to stand.
In the YouTube video Ms Sobchak spoke from a spacious kitchen – a more homely setting than the nightclubs and fashion shows where she is frequently photographed – and urged Russians to come to the polls. “If you don’t vote, how will your voice be heard?” she asked.
Zoya Svetova, a human rights activist and journalist known for anti-Kremlin views, slammed Ms Sobchak’s candidacy, saying the fashionista-turned-politician “would be playing along with Putin to help him stay in his post until death”.
Others said Ms Sobchak had no illusions about her chances in the 2018 election, but would use the campaign as a dress rehearsal for the future polls.
Ms Sobchak had no intention of playing a "clown" who participates in one election and then disappears, said Stanislav Belkovsky, a political commentator and TV presenter. "Ksenia knows perfectly well that it's impossible to beat Putin. But, in my view, to win in the future it's necessary to train now."