Alternative Insight

The Russian Election Featuring Ksenia Anatolyevna Sobchak

Ksenia Anatolyevna Sobchak, candidate for President of the Russian Federation, running against her fathers' protégé, the invincible Vladimir Putin, made an impressive American debut on February 6, 2018 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). While her thoughts, observations, agenda, and personal appearance may be well known in Russia, the U.S. media has not given her much attention. From the crowded auditorium sized room at CSIS, and from the questions asked of her, Americans are interested in Ms. Sobchak.

For some in the audience, the principal reason to witness her appearance was to ascertain if she fulfilled the description of "Russia's Paris Hilton," a carefree socialite and TV host using her femininity and fame to challenge Vladimir Putin for the Russian presidency. The presidential aspirant quickly dispelled her entertainment popularity by suggesting that was her nature in a bygone era, 15 years previously. Now she suffers from the media's opportunity to gain customers from her life story and to discredit her mission by sensational tales. For everyone to see, Ksenia Sobchak is a mature and attractive woman of no exceptional allure -- thoughtful, engaging, expressive, and intelligent.

In this writer's opinion, although the lady has credentials and is credible as an analyst of the political scene, these attributes do not translate into political acumen -- why would a Russian politician, when running for an office, come and speak in the nation that most Russian citizens distrust? If Donald Trump went to Russia and spoke there during his presidential campaign, what rumors would he have generated -- he is making deals, getting campaign contributions, soliciting support from Hillary's adversaries. Same with Ms. Sobchak. Going abroad after the election would have been acceptable, but during the campaign; what was in her mind?

This is not her only faux pas. An audience member mentioned she traded her candidate role for her journalist role by interviewing President Putin during the campaign. Her awkward response - in the present climate it is the only way to expose Putin and demonstrate the worth of the opposition. From another perspective, she showed little understanding of objectivity - can a journalist report honestly on someone who is in opposition to the journalist candidacy and can a candidate be honest to her own journalism?

Ksenia - I like to think of her as a friendly and gracious woman, who prefers familiarity, and use of her first name - presents herself as heir to previous ill-fated Putin antagonists - Boris Nemtsov and Alexei Navalny - with some similarities and major distinctions. Similar to the charges from the deceased Nemtsov and sidetracked Navalny, she accuses President Putin of corruption, stifling opposition, and gross mismanagement of the economy. In contrast with her failed predecessors, the daughter of Putin's benefactor has no illusions of the Russian electorate. She maintains the Russians are moribund, but will eventually realize that the economy has stagnated and Putin cannot revive it. The public is not ready to act, but after six more years of Vladimir Putin, the Russians will awake to the occasion and be prepared for a change. Meanwhile, Ksenia, who announced her intention to run for the State Duma, favors evolution over revolution (her campaign slogan), and intends to develop a liberal and democratic political Party that will be ripe at the right time and will be capable of presenting a formidable challenge to whatever constitutes a political process in 2024 Russia. The plan of action to accomplish this feat has not been described, which leads some political pundits to believe that Navalny was sidetracked to make way for her, Ms. Sobchak is a stalking horse for Independent Vladimir Putin, a release valve for heavy breathing liberal democrats and President Putin's selected candidate after he finishes his latest executive appearance.

In another departure from the views of the sidetracked opposition, Ms. Sobchak does not favor an election boycott - mathematically unacceptable - Putin will receive a higher percentage of the votes, which will be more noticeable than voter rejection of the system. In response to her proclamation that a non-vote has never succeeded in any election, it was offered that, in the previous U.S. election, those who refused to vote for Hillary Clinton enabled Donald Trump to win.

Ksenia stresses she is a liberal democrat who, and I am not sure I heard her correctly, wants to return to the democratic principles established during the Yeltsin era. Was it not Boris Yeltsin's failures, including his rigged vote for his last presidency, which paved the road for a less than democratic Russia? Not adequately described is that a youthful Boris Nemtsov, Yeltsin's protégé, was initially preferred to succeed Yeltsin until Nemtsov made more enemies than allowed, which included the oligarchs whom he first named as "oligarchs," and demonstrated no political skill. From the writer's knowledge, it was not Yeltsin who personally selected Vladimir Putin, but a unanimity of all advisors to the president who recommended him, and for good reason - they believed Putin had the ability to rescue a failing nation. The rest is Russian history.

The liberal candidate may yearn for more democracy and free markets, but similar to her government opponents, has nationalist sympathies. Although she mildly claimed she did not approve Russia's actions in the Ukraine, her attitude toward the Crimea annexation provoked the audience. Ksenia believes the great majority of Crimeans, who are Russian, definitely favored attachment to Mother Russia. To resolve the dispute, she recommends that all Russians, Ukrainians, and Crimeans vote their preference. When asked, "does not that, due to Russia's large population compared to Ukraine, guarantee a Russian victory," she replied that all nationalities are equally involved in the decision, and, besides, what other solution is there?"

A question of how she would handle the attitudes of former Soviet Republics to Russian expatriates prompted an acceptable response -- consider their rights while respecting the sovereignty of other nations.

Other opinions of Russia's status, its presidential election, and Ms. Sobchak were expressed by Andrei Kolesnikov, Senior Fellow and Chair of Russian Domestic Policy and Political Institutions Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center. He expressed his opinions on a February 8, 2018 meeting at the DC based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Personally optimistic, due to a credit boom and supposedly rising salaries, Kolesnikov senses Putin is only ready for small adjustments in Russia's operations. He notes that Putin has not declared he will be a lame duck president or is proposing any constitution changes. Kolesnikov's only hope is with a new liberal Party who, he believes, will be led by Ksenia Anatolyevna Sobchak, which he tempered by considering her "a credible candidate and sincere politician under control of the Kremlin." (Figure that one out). Besides, although the scene needs liberal discourse, that type of discourse is not popular with the average Russian. Results of a poll taken by his Carnegie Moscow Center and the Levada Center show that 69% of Russians favor "active state intervention in the economy." His vuegraphs had a quote: "People in [remote towns] want change too…They want the government to get stronger, they want all the rich people to be shot, they want Comrade Stalin to come back and save everyone."

Why did Ksenia come to Russia's principal antagonist -- America -- and did that harm her election chances? Because she has no chance in the election, Kolesnikov did not feel it harmed her chances. Evidently, she feels she needs to make herself known in the west (she is well known in the east), but he did not give a reason for this audacious endeavor.

The somewhat contradictory Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center pulled no punches in describing President Putin, likening him to Italy's dictator, Benito Mussolini, by having created a system that is under control and monopolistic -- a typical corporate economy, otherwise known as fascism (Editor's' word). Russia continues to operate with "hereditary state capitalism."

No two presidential elections could be more different. The U.S. election had a nonviable candidate running against several well connected and viable candidates. The election was in doubt until the final hours and the former candidate won the election. The Russian election has one viable candidate running against several nonviable candidates. No doubt who will win this election.

Ksenia Anatolyevna Sobchak has a tremendous challenge. Can she meet the challenge? She had an opportunity to use her fame, smarts, and connections, but coming to America during campaign time may harm her relations with the Russian electorate, and forever. If she had a steep hill to climb, the hill has only become steeper. Eventually deciding to stay in the "States" and becoming a U.S. citizen gives her a better chance at reforming a liberal democratic political Party. The Democrats can use new blood.

alternative insight
february 12, 2018