Daughter of Putin's mentor, Russian It-girl Ksenia Sobchak, announces her presidential bid
Running as an independent, Sobchak generally has a love-hate relationship with the Russian audience. Having been on the country's pop culture scene for many years, she has hosted one of the most popular reality TV shows, is a frequent guest at international VIP celebrity parties, has modeled for Playboy and is now editor-in-chief of L'Officiel Russia.
In a recent interview with Glamour Russia, Sobchak called being president "a top level art project," adding that she thinks her career in showbiz would help in her political bid.
Sobchak also hosts an interview show on the Dozhd (Rain) TV channel, and in 2012 joined the opposition movement, having taken part in the Bolotnaya Square protests in central Moscow.
Ksenia's late father, Anatoly Sobchak, was a famous Russian politician, the first democratically elected mayor of St. Petersburg in the 1990s. Vladimir Putin joined Sobchak's team in 1990, and worked closely with the politician, who is widely considered to be his mentor.
"I have always had respect for [Ksenia's] father and regard him as an outstanding figure in the modern Russian history... He was an honorable man, and played a great role in my life," Putin told Vedomosti newspaper in September, when rumors of Ksenia Sobchak's possible run for the presidency started circulating.
However, Putin pointed out that "personal matters can play no significant role when running for presidency is this case," saying that Sobchak's potential political career "depends on the political program she offers."
"Every citizen in accordance with the law has the right to run as a candidate. Ksenia Sobchak is no exception," he said.
In an open letter in Vedomosti announcing her bid on Wednesday, the new potential presidential candidate explained the motivations behind her decision and put forward some of her program.
Saying she intends to reform the education and judicial systems in particular, the newly announced candidate also hinted that she wants greater opportunities for women in Russia.
"Almost 500 strenuous professions in Russia are officially closed for women. But even among the rest of careers women's salaries are almost 30 percent lower than men's. Only some 5 percent of the country's most important companies are headed by women," she claimed.
Elections, being the "base for real democracy," should not be ignored, she wrote, saying she has decided to be the missing "against all candidates" option on the ballot paper.
Voting for her would be "a legal and peaceful opportunity to say 'enough'," Sobchak suggested. Those voters who are against the candidates who have already run for president, including Putin, should opt for her, she said.
"I can talk with anyone [in Russia's political elite], because I personally know the majority of the political establishment, and because I'm a journalist," Sobchak said.
She also called for the Russian opposition figure and anti-corruption activist Aleksey Navalny to be registered as a candidate in the elections, and offered him cooperation with her campaign.
Having previously commented on Sobchak's possible decision to run for the presidency, Navalny said that despite his "good, friendly relations" with Ksenia, he thinks "highly negatively" of her enterprise. Her bid is an attempt to replace himself as an opposition candidate, Navalny claimed, having called Sobchak a "cartoonish liberal candidate."
Among other candidates who have announced their bids for the 2018 election are the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, founder of Russia's Yabloko party, Grigory Yavlinsky, and the head of Communists of Russia, Maksim Suraykin. President Putin has not officially voiced his plans for a re-election bid.
The election campaign for the March 18 vote will be officially launched in December. To be registered, candidates need to either represent a political party, or – as in the case with Ksenia Sobchak – collect at least 300,000 signatures.
The latest Levada Center poll has shown that the majority of Russians, 71 percent, welcome women's participation in politics. Some 60 percent would like to see women occupying top positions in the state along with men. However, only 34 percent said they would like a woman to become the president of Russia in the next 10-15 years.
Conducted in mid-September among 1,600 respondents across the country, the poll also found that such women as Russian Upper House chair Valentina Matviyenko, politician Irina Khakamada and Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova could occupy the highest position in the country. The world's first woman in space, cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, as well as Ksenia Sobchak, were also mentioned among potential Russian leaders.