MOSCOW — A reality TV star-turned-politician is challenging the establishment — this time, in Russia.
Ksenia Sobchak is already unofficially campaigning for Russia’s top job. She spoke on Tuesday at a student rally in St. Petersburg.
Sobchak may be a new face in national politics, but she’s been a Russian celebrity for years. Known as a glamorous socialite, Playboy model and scandalous reality television star, she’s morphed — again — as an unlikely challenger to Russian President Vladimir Putin — but one with no illusions.
“No way Putin will let anyone take away his power,” Sobchak told CBS News. “Even if all the people of Russia voted for me.”
She admits she’s a protest candidate. And here’s her potential base: Russians fed up with censorship, rigged elections and corruption, who last got to protest en masse in 2011.
“I don’t want people to vote personally for me,” Sobchak said. “I want them to vote against the system.”
The system’s official media is off-limits, so Sobchak is campaigning online — inspired by modern American politics.
Her strategist is Washington-based Vitali Shkliarov, who worked on Bernie Sanders’ campaign. He said he learned “quite a lot” during Sanders’ campaign.
“In America you have software where you can manage entire campaign remotely,” Shkliarov said. “You can build infrastructure and scale it.”
Sobchak’s team wants to mobilize millions, especially young voters, to shake up Russian politics and weaken the Kremlin. But the challenge is huge. First, she has to convince voters she’s not just a party girl or a photogenic Kremlin puppet brought in to spice up the race.
The catch is: if she succeeds and starts to look like a real threat, the Kremlin could just decide not to let her run at all.
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