Sobchak’s trip shows that people from Putin’s environment also feel less safe in Russia. Hundreds of thousands of Russians have fled since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in fear of mobilization or persecution for political reasons, but those with (family) connections to Putin seemed safe.
Relations between Sobchak and Putin date back to the 1990s. Sobchak’s father, Anatoly, was mayor of Saint Petersburg from 1991 to 1996 and a mentor to Putin, then deputy mayor. The Sobchak and Putin families often visited each other and went on vacation together. Putin attended the christening of Ksenia Sobchak and met her several times during his presidency. The last known private meeting was in 2018, just before Sobchak ran for president.
Sobchak, 40, left on Tuesday after Russian police arrested her manager and searched one of her Moscow homes. According to Russian state media, the police were on their way to her with an arrest warrant for embezzlement. They argue that Sobchak deceived the police by buying a plane ticket to Istanbul, but in the meantime he fled to Lithuania via Belarus. Lithuania confirmed the Sobchak border crossing on Thursday.
On Telegram, Sobchak says that she is being tried in Russia for a documentary series about torture in Russian prisons. Sobchak has long criticized the Kremlin. During her 2018 presidential campaign, she spoke out about gay rights abuses, corruption, and propaganda on state television.
But Russian opposition politicians do not trust her. Alexei Navalny, who barred the Kremlin from running in the presidential election, called Sobchak a false opponent of Putin – the Kremlin always lets some desperate candidates in to give the appearance of a fair vote. Soon after the presidential race (Sobchak received 1.7 percent of the vote according to official results), Sobchak began working on state television, which she called a propaganda machine during her election campaign.
Her arrival was met with suspicion in Lithuania. In support of Ukraine, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia and Poland, they have stopped accepting Russians with a Schengen visa since September. One of the reasons for the entry ban is the fear of Russian spies. Hundreds of Russians have been brought back.
Sobchak was in no way allowed to cross the border with her second Israeli passport, Darius Jonesiskis, head of the Lithuanian intelligence service, said Thursday. He said he had no evidence that Sobchak posed a security risk to Lithuania. Sobchak applied for an Israeli passport in April, shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine – a sign that she was already worried at the time.
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