Ksenia Sobchak, a critic of the Kremlin, leaves Russia

One of the most famous figures of the Russian public, a frequent critic of the government, has left the country, shocking many in a country accustomed to gradually reducing dissent.

Ksenia Sobchak, who has challenged President Vladimir V. Putin at the polls while sometimes appearing to fit his agenda, has entered Lithuania on an Israeli passport, said Lithuania’s Foreign Minister , Gabrielius Landsbergis, told reporters on Thursday. Videos posted on social media a few hours ago were appeared to show Miss Sobchak40 years old, crossing the border.

The day before Ms. Sobchak left, an executive at her media company was arrested and charged with blackmailing a Russian state-owned company. Security agents searched Sobchak’s home this week, according to Russian state media. Ms Sobchak did not respond to a request for comment and she has not publicly commented on her departure.

One of Russia’s most polarizing figures, Sobchak epitomizes a generation of country elites that have sought to build a conformist public while largely following the rules of the system built by Putin. built over 20 years in power.

Her departure seems to suggest that even modest opposition voices involved in the government are no longer safe from repression, a level of repression seen in Russia four decades ago.

Sobchak’s father is Putin’s political adviser, Anatoly Sobchak, who was once mayor of St.Petersburg. She took on a range of often-contradictory public personalities before becoming one of Russia’s most prominent public affairs commentators.

Over the years, she has frequently criticized Mr. Putin’s policies, participating in anti-government protests in 2011 and against him in the 2018 election. But many opposition figures, including jailed politician Aleksei A. Navalny, accused Ms. Sobchak of running the Kremlin, creating the illusion of competition in the truly one-party system.

“I like Putin as a human being, but I don’t like him as a politician,” she said in early 2012 amid the biggest wave of anti-government protests in years, emphasizing the ambiguity. on her political agenda.

She improved her attacks somewhat during her run for president in 2017, saying at a meeting of her supporters: “We’re against this rule, against an candidate, against Putin.” However, her campaign has mainly focused on criticizing local officials and general governance rather than attacking the president directly.

Ms Sobchak also avoided a strong stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, lamenting her country’s pathetic path while often mimicking the Kremlin’s line by calling the war a “special operation”. . Since the war began, her frequent posts on social media, which sometimes attract millions of viewers, have largely avoided confronting its reality, prompting many detractors to accuse She abets Kremlin propaganda by misleading the Russian public.

Ms. Sobchak’s often unruly actions mimicked the experiences of millions of her compatriots, who sought to find the ever-changing balance between independent thought and conformity in Russia. Putin. To many, including her detractors, her flight from Russia appeared to be the turning point in the country’s transition since the start of the war in Ukraine.

Andrew Higgins, Alina Lobzina and Anton Troianovski contribution report.


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