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The Curious Case of the Television Star Running Against Vladimir Putin

There was a bit of cringing in the standing-room-only crowd in one of
the larger Columbia University halls when the Russian Presidential
candidate Ksenia Sobchak spoke there last Thursday. A wave of discomfort
washed over the room when Sobchak said, “Russia is the biggest European
nation,” and added, “We are Europeans, we are not Asians.” Another wave
came after an audience member noted that Sobchak has risked alienating
voters by voicing support for L.G.B.T. people and even same-sex
marriage; Sobchak lamented that Russian television would surely now
disregard all the serious topics that had been discussed that evening,
and focus instead on the frivolous topic of L.G.B.T. rights.

Aside from those moments, though, the audience loved Sobchak, the
thirty-six-year-old television personality whose name will appear on the
ballot in the Presidential election, or what passes for a Presidential

election, on March 18th. One after another, graduate students, Russia
scholars, and Russian exiles congratulated Sobchak for her courage. The
outcome of the exercise known as the election is preordained—Vladimir
Putin, who has been in power for more than eighteen years, will gain
another six-year mandate—but Sobchak has been using her campaign to
speak out about taboo subjects, including Russian political prisoners.
She even went to Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, to draw attention to
the case of Oyub Tetiev, a human-rights activist who was arrested on
what appear to be falsified drug charges. That brought her praise from
some Russian activists and journalists who had been skeptical of her

It’s easy to be skeptical. Sobchak is a woman, blond, wealthy, of
reality-television fame, and she has a close family connection to Putin.
Her father was Anatoly Sobchak, the first post-Soviet mayor of St.Article source:

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