'Russian Paris Hilton' criticises Putin's leadership


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The Independent Online

Russia's answer to Paris Hilton has emerged as a surprise critic of Vladimir Putin in a protest movement that has pitted the wealthy socialite against the man her father mentored.

Ksenia Sobchak, a Playboy cover girl and television compere with a reputation for hard partying, has made no secret of her views, especially since her new political talk show, Where is Putin taking us?, was axed after just one episode.

She made the mistake of inviting Alexei Navalny, one of the leaders of the biggest anti-Kremlin protests since Mr Putin rose to power, to be on the show.

Ms Sobchak then made a spoof video mocking celebrities who have filmed messages in support of Mr Putin's presidential campaign. In the video, posted on the internet, Ms Sobchak seemingly pledges her vote to the 59-year-old Prime Minister, only for the camera to pan out, showing her tied to her chair and flanked by armed guards.

"I want Putin to go," Ms Sobchak told Reuters ahead of the 4 March presidential election that Mr Putin is expected to win. "I want a change in leadership and fair elections."

Mr Putin worked as a deputy in the 1990s for her father, the late St Petersburg Mayor, Anatoly Sobchak.

Ms Sobchak's 2011 income is estimated at $2.8m (£1.75m) by Forbes and, like Hilton, the American hotel heiress, she had a privileged upbringing, benefiting from a system of political patronage that has flourished under Mr Putin. Her new television series was intended to be a more high-brow venture, even though she appeared in the first programme wearing a T-shirt with a picture of Mr Putin as a child. The political debate she hosted with members of the opposition and pro-Putin groups on Russian MTV was unusually lively; the Kremlin has a tight grip on the media. In a tongue-in-cheek reference to allegations by Mr Putin – denied by Washington – that the US is funding Russia's opposition, she called the series Gosdep, after the Russian term for the US State Department.

Russian MTV said it cancelled the series because the channel's young audience wanted entertainment, not politics.