Russian journalist and Putin’s rumoured goddaughter flees to Lithuania

Ksenia Sobchak, media personality and daughter of Vladimir Putin’s one-time boss, was subject of arrest order

The Russian journalist and TV personality Ksenia Sobchak – the daughter of Vladimir Putin’s one-time boss – has fled to Lithuania, intelligence services in Vilnius said, after police in Moscow raided one of her homes.

A well-known media figure in Russia, Sobchak first became famous as a reality show presenter before embarking on a career in journalism. She also ran for the Russian presidency in 2018, a move her critics said was a publicity stunt intended to help the Kremlin create the impression of competitive elections.

She is the daughter of the former mayor of St Petersburg Anatoly Sobchak, whom Putin has previously described as his mentor. She is rumoured to be Putin’s goddaughter, and though that is unconfirmed her longstanding family connection to the Russian president has been a source of mistrust among sections of the opposition.

Russian media said Sobchak had fled Russia on Tuesday night, crossing the Belarus-Lithuania border after tricking the Russian authorities by buying plane tickets from Moscow to Dubai via Istanbul.

In CCTV footage circulating online, Sobchak can be seen covering her face and wearing a cap as she crosses what appears to be the Lithuanian border on foot.

“Without any doubt, she is [in Lithuania] ... I confirm the fact,” the head of the country’s counterintelligence service, Darius Jauniškis, , told a local radio station on Thursday morning.

He said Sobchak had crossed the border on her Israeli passport. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia introduced an entry ban for Russian citizens holding tourist visas last month.

“As an Israeli citizen, with a valid passport, she doesn’t need a visa and can enter Lithuania and stay here for up to 90 days,” Jauniskis said.

According to the Russian state news agency Tass, the country’s security services had an order to arrest Sobchak as a suspect in the same criminal case as her media director Kirill Sukhanov.

A court in Moscow jailed Sukhanov on Wednesday on charges of trying to extort 11m roubles (£154,000) from Sergey Chemezov, the head of the Russian state defence corporation Rostec and a former KGB general close to Putin.

Sobchak and the prosecutor’s office have not formally commented on her status in the investigation.

Nor has she commented on her movements, but she said on Telegram on Wednesday that the case against Sukhanov was politically motivated and linked to her Ostorozhno Media project. She called his arrest “another instance of pressure against the media”.

Sukhanov is the commercial director of Ostorozhno Media, one of the only remaining news projects operating inside Russia that has criticised the Kremlin since the start of the war in Ukraine.

Sobchak suggested on Telegram that his arrest was linked to a documentary series on the use of torture in Russian prisons.

If officially charged, the move against Sobchak would represent another escalation in the Kremlin’s crackdown on dissent, as the authorities seek to further narrow any room for criticism in the country.

“Sobchak always tried to sit on both chairs,” Alexander Rodniansky, a prominent Ukrainian-born movie director and longtime friend, wrote on his Instagram channel on Thursday, referring to her journalism while maintaining personal connections to the ruling elite.

“That might have been possible before, but times have changed … And now she is fleeing from a fabricated case against her.”


Pjotr Sauer

The GuardianTramp

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