By Sarah Hurst
Supporters of Alexei Navalny greeted Ksenia Sobchak’s announcement today that she was running for president primarily with disgust. The 35-year-old TV presenter and socialite whose late father Anatoly was Putin’s boss in St. Petersburg (and died in questionable circumstances) had been hinting at a run for some time. Navalny had already responded angrily before he was jailed for 20 days, so Sobchak made this decision in the full knowledge that she would be viewed as a tool of the Kremlin.
It didn’t help that Sobchak said on Dozhd TV that she would withdraw from the election if authorities allowed Navalny to run. Few expect Putin to change his mind on that score. Sobchak also tried to explain herself in a long letter to the newspaper Vedomosti, in which she said that she would be the candidate for everyone who dislikes the current government and rigged system. She made it clear that she doesn’t expect to win, instead saying that it would be useful for the opposition to practice participating in an election, and that this was more effective than street protests.
But training opposition activists is exactly what Navalny has been doing, at great cost to himself and them. Many have gone to prison or suffered physical assaults just for handing out leaflets, yet they have persisted and their numbers are constantly increasing, thanks to impressive organising in most of Russia’s regions. Navalny’s goal has been to gather so much momentum that Putin will either have to allow him into the election or admit that the election is completely fraudulent. Sobchak’s participation helps the Kremlin claim the election is real.
The ideal candidate to come second
As economist Konstantin Sonin commented, “Ksenia Sobchak is the ideal candidate for the place of second person in the Russian state. Adding popularity to the first person and at the same time in no way competing for his position.” Liberal newspaper The New Times tweeted that in return for running against Navalny Sobchak gets air time on state TV channels.
UK-based Russian businessman Yevgeny Chichvarkin was furious, posting a picture of himself on Instagram making a rude gesture with the comment, “At this point only Navalny is independent and he is in prison. All the rest have made an agreement with Putin and work for him. A choice of one person isn’t a choice. You fucking sellouts are taking the country into total shit, carrying the Dickhead to a fifth term. Fuck off! Fuck off!”
Another Russian emigre, former world chess champion and democratic political activist Garry Kasparov, tweeted: “A rule of ‘bread and circuses’ is that when bread runs low, hire more clowns and throw more people to the lions.”
But Prague-based Russian blogger Rustem Adagamov tweeted a suggestion that could turn the tables once again: Navalny’s wife Yulia could replace him in the campaign. This would simultaneously undercut Sobchak’s position as the female candidate and pose a new problem for Putin, who would have to find yet another excuse to ban Yulia from the election. Yulia could continue Alexei’s campaign smoothly with few adjustments. But Alexei Navalny has been single-minded in his determination to force the issue, so it is more likely that he will continue his battle for as long as he can. Tomorrow Putin is expected to officially announce that he will seek a fourth term in office. An already dirty fight may now become even more vicious.
Categories: Campaign diary