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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Russian Presidential Hopeful: If Putin Could Safely Retire, He Would

By Danila Galperovich, Yulia Savchenko February 07, 2018

Russian presidential hopeful Ksenia Sobchak, a Russian TV celebrity and socialite, has told VOA that the rumors are true: If her father's old political mentor, President Vladimir Putin, were guaranteed a personally safe exit from public life, he would willingly retire from politics.

"Yes, I think [he really would retire]," she said. "It's just hard to convince him that there's an exit and that he can trust those people who guarantee that, and that nothing like what happened to [former Chilean dictator Augusto] Pinochet or [former Libyan dictator Moammar] Gadhafi would happen to him. He's really afraid of that."

Sobchak, 36, whose candidacy has been questioned by opposition activists and political observers who suspect her campaign is a Kremlin ploy to boost turnout and help Putin's bid for another six-year term, was not the first to make this claim. Alexei Navalny, who has built a national following by railing against endemic corruption, made a similar observation several months ago.

After being barred from seeking office because of what supporters have long called politically motivated criminal charges, Navalny made the claim independent of any direct ties to Putin's inner circle. Sobchak, however, is the first person to base the observation on personal insights into Putin's private life.

Strategic transition

Asked whether his safety could be guaranteed without his wealthy and powerful allies remaining in power, she said his departure would require a politically strategic transition.

"The question here is about a change of the entire system, so that those people would not stay in power either," Sobchak said. "We're talking about politics and [a long-term] strategy, so in six years [Putin] wouldn't think about new changes to the constitution and again take part in elections.

The objective would be "to slowly change the situation and minimize the aggression level, have new people, new talent and have a new compromise political figure that would be satisfying for the opposition, but also acceptable for Putin," she said.

Attending several high-profile events in Washington this week, Sobchak countered skeptics, saying that her political ambitions were genuine and that they would continue well beyond the March 18 polls.

Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Tuesday, Sobchak indicated that, among other things, she planned to meet with administration officials about U.S. economic sanctions imposed on Russia in recent years.

Washington first hit Moscow with asset freezes and travel bans in 2014, following Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and the outbreak of fighting between government forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Later measures were imposed in response to U.S. intelligence findings that Russia engaged in a campaign of hacking and propaganda to try to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Those sanctions have continued into Donald Trump's presidency, despite his calls for better relations with Moscow.

Division on sanctions

A law passed by Congress last summer called for new punitive measures against Russia, but last week, the State and Treasury departments declined to impose new sanctions.

Putin is widely expected to win a new six-year term in next month's election.

Sobchak, who is one of the other candidates who will appear on the ballot, is best known for her celebrity persona and TV appearances. Her father was Anatoly Sobchak, the late mayor of St. Petersburg who brought Putin, then an unknown KGB officer, to work in the city government.

This story originated in VOA's Russian Service.

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