Mixed reaction as TV host announces run for Russia's presidency
A presidential bid by a celebrity Russian TV host drew conflicting reactions from the country's beleaguered opposition on Thursday.
Some accused her of playing into the Kremlin's hands and others welcomed her move.
Although President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, denied that the Kremlin has encouraged Ksenia Sobchak to run, some opposition figures say her move would allow the government to counter voter apathy and at the same time sow discord in opposition ranks.
The 35-year-old Ms Sobchak announced her intention to run in the March 18 presidential election on Wednesday, saying the country has grown tired of stagnation and needs a political change.
She is the daughter of Anatoly Sobchak, the reformist St Petersburg mayor in the early 1990s who once had Mr Putin as his deputy.
Ms Sobchak, who joined anti-Kremlin protests in 2011-2012, said she had warned the president of her intention during a recent meeting, adding that Mr Putin did not seem to like it.
Mr Putin has not yet said whether he would seek re-election, but he is widely expected to run and is poised to convincingly beat the same set of lacklustre veterans of past campaigns.
On Thursday, the Russian leader again dodged questions about his intention to run while speaking at a forum of foreign policy experts in Sochi.
One Putin challenger, the liberal leader Grigory Yavlinsky, warned that Ms Sobchak would play a role similar to billionaire tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov, who challenged Mr Putin in the 2012 election, casting himself as a representative of Russian liberal circles.
Mr Putin won with nearly 64% of the vote, while Mr Prokhorov polled 8%.
"It's the same trap. Shall we walk into it again?" he tweeted.
Liberal politician Dmitry Gudkov sounded more positive, saying if Sobchak runs a real campaign critical of the Kremlin that it could help encourage political competition and draw young voters into the polls.
Russia's most popular opposition figure, Alexei Navalny, who is serving a 20-day jail term for organizing an unsanctioned protest, has not commented yet on Ms Sobchak's declaration.
But before she made the announcement, Mr Navalny warned Ms Sobchak on YouTube that she would only serve the Kremlin's goals by running for president.
"They need a cartoonish liberal candidate at a time when they don't want to allow me to enter the race," Mr Navalny said.
Mr Navalny has declared his intention to run for president, even though a criminal conviction that he calls politically motivated, bars him from running.
The 41-year-old anti-corruption crusader has organised a grassroots campaign to support his bid and staged several waves of protests this year to raise pressure on the Kremlin to let him join the race.
Ms Sobchak has rejected Mr Navalny's criticism, saying she would push for his registration and could even withdraw her candidacy in his favour if he is allowed to run.
She cast herself as a "candidate against all", trying to tap public resentment with the nation's tightly-controlled and corrupt political system.
"It's our peaceful and legitimate way to say: Enough, guys, we really had enough of you all!" she said in a YouTube video.