A glamorous Russian socialite whose father was Vladimir Putin’s mentor reportedly fled the country on Wednesday morning, just hours before police raided her luxury mansion after she mildly criticised the Ukraine war.
Former It-girl Ksenia Sobchak, 40, is an extremely close family friend of Putin – he attended her baptism and was long rumoured to be his goddaughter.
But her targeting is a signal that Moscow is further tightening its limits on anti-war sentiment.
Agents were also dispatched to a VIP airport terminal to arrest her, according to several Russian state-owned news agencies quoting unnamed officials.
But the 40-year-old socialite managed to board a flight to Lithuania via Belarus before the agents could get there.
“She left Moscow overnight after she bought tickets online for Dubai yesterday and Turkey today – she did that to fool the agents,” an unnamed official told the Tass news agency.
It was not clear exactly what comments might have angered the Kremlin. Ms Sobchak has been careful not to speak out openly on her YouTube and Telegram channels, which boast over three million followers, but has let it be known she cannot voice her true opinions on the invasion of Ukraine.
Criticism of the so-called “special operation” carries a 10-year prison sentence in Russia. Ms Sobchak is now one of the most high-profile targets of the Kremlin’s campaign against dissent.
Sergei Markov, a pro-Kremlin political analyst, argued that the raid has sent a signal to members of the Russian elite that all bets are off. “If they can arrest the daughter of Putin’s patron… it means there are no untouchables,” Mr Markov wrote in a commentary. “For some members of the elites, an arrest warrant for Sobchak is a blazing sign in the skies.”
The raid and attempted arrest came the day after the commercial director of her company was taken into custody on suspicion of extortion.
Ms Sobchak has not yet commented on the police raid but she condemned Tuesday’s arrest of Kirill Sukhanov and linked it to her work.
“My editorial team and I view this as yet another example of pressure against journalists,” she said. “There’s nothing to fault us with… They keep detaining my journalists. Now they’ve taken in Kirill and concocted charges against him.”
State-owned news agency Tass on Wednesday quoted an unnamed official saying Ms Sobchak is currently not a suspect.
Russian media outlet Baza later on Wednesday quoted sources saying that a former editor of the Russian edition of the Tatler magazine has also been taken into custody as part of the same criminal inquiry.
Socialite enjoyed status of royalty in Putin’s Russia
Ms Sobchak, who was prominent on Moscow’s party scene in the 2000s and dabbles in journalism, has enjoyed the status of royalty in Putin’s Russia as her father, a law professor and St Petersburg’s first post-Soviet mayor, was a mentor and long-time boss of the Russian president.
The Kremlin is believed to have given Ms Sobchak a free reign in criticising the authorities, and she was often picked to ask Putin critical questions at his tightly choreographed news conferences.
The 40-year-old graduate of Russia’s most prestigious diplomatic school ran for president in 2018 in a bid that opposition activists widely dismissed as a Kremlin-run ploy to lend legitimacy to Putin’s re-election: Ms Sobchak had no difficulty securing a place on the ballot while opposition leader Alexei Navalny was barred from running.
She won about 1.7 per cent of the vote and has not displayed any political ambition since.
Ms Sobchak, whose social media feed mixes snapshots of Prada slippers with posters announcing a prison sentence for yet another Russian dissident, has refused calls to follow other popular Russian YouTubers and leave Russia in the aftermath of the invasion and war censorship.
Yet the Muscovite, who openly condemned the Crimean annexation in 2014, has made it clear she was not at liberty to speak her mind about the war, fearing prosecution.
Many of her posts have been ambiguous: In one Instagram post last month she condemned the suspected Ukrainian attack on the Crimean bridge, claiming “aggression breeds more aggression”.
Source: The Telegraph