Campaign diary

Ksenia Sobchak hits back hard

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Ksenia Sobchak at her press conference this morning

by Sarah Hurst

Ksenia Sobchak defied critics at a press conference today, putting forward a strong position and insisting that she is running for president because she wants to live in Russia and cares about its future. She started impressively by showing a video about political prisoners, including film and theatre director Kirill Serebrennikov and Alexei Navalny’s brother Oleg. Demanding the release of these and numerous other political prisoners is at the top of Sobchak’s agenda, she said.

Sobchak’s other striking statement was that according to international law, Crimea is Ukraine, and Russia violated the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 by annexing the peninsula. This agreement, signed by Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom, promised to guarantee the territorial integrity of Ukraine in return for it giving up the nuclear weapons it had during the Soviet era. In Russia calling Crimea Ukrainian is now equivalent to separatism and is punishable by a prison sentence. For now Sobchak will probably avoid a criminal prosecution because Putin needs an opponent in the election, but he can always use this against her if she starts to develop real support.

Navalny deserves to be registered as a candidate

Alexei Navalny has done everything to deserve being registered as a candidate in the election, Sobchak said, and she will try to help him get registered. If that happens, which is seen as extremely unlikely, then Sobchak will withdraw her candidacy and join his team, she added, saying that there should be only one opposition candidate.

Sobchak answered numerous questions from journalists, including responding in English to an Australian reporter. She announced that her campaign chief would be Igor Malashenko, who led Boris Yeltsin’s successful election campaign of 1996 against Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov. That campaign was heavily criticised for the heavy-handed use of state TV to force a victory for the incumbent president, who was already looking shaky on his feet in public. Bizarrely, Malashenko’s wife, blogger Bozena Rynska, appeared to hear the news of his appointment only during the press conference and commented on Twitter that she was in shock and still supported Navalny. Recently Rynska said on Navalny’s YouTube channel that she planned to leave Russia.

Sobchak has done her best to prove that she speaks for herself and is nobody’s puppet. Her decision to participate in the election was questionable, but she herself agrees that the election cannot be considered fair. Her point is to amplify opposition views, and see what comes of it. We will all see.

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