Ksenia Sobchak polled just 1.6% in Russia’s election but she remains a divisive figure – to some a liberaliser who dreams of toppling the current regime, to others an establishment stooge. What’s her true agenda?

Say what you like about Ksenia Sobchak – and in Russia they say a lot of things – but she knows how to work a crowd. Talking to a packed room at Pushkin House, a venue for Russian cultural events in London, she starts with a joke. And not a bad one: “You know, in Russia we say there are three things you can’t choose: your parents, your gender and your president.”

Sobchak should know. In March’s Russian presidential election, she was one of seven challengers to Vladimir Putin, and only the third woman to stand for president in the country. (Ella Pamfilova in 2000 and Irina Khakamada in 2004 were the others.) She got 1.6% of the vote. In a climate where Russia-UK relations have hardly ever been worse, her visit to London seems designed to raise as many questions as it answers. What is next for her politically? (Unclear – it was a resounding defeat.) Is there any hope for liberalism or opposition of any kind in Russia? (This has yet to be seen.) And will Putin attempt to extend his term beyond the next six years? (Probably not, but you never know.)

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