Russian presidential hopeful Ksenia Sobchak says she won't slam 'family friend' Putin

Russian TV personality Ksenia Sobchak said she does not expect to beat Putin, who is a runaway favourite for re-election in March if he chooses to run again. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MOSCOW (REUTERS) - Ksenia Sobchak, a Russian TV personality planning to run against Vladimir Putin in next year's presidential election, attacked his policies on Tuesday (Oct 24) but said she would not personally insult him in the campaign because he was a family friend.

Sobchak, 35, the daughter of a former mayor of St Petersburg for whom Putin once worked, said she does not expect to beat Putin, who is a runaway favourite for re-election in March if he chooses to run again.

But she said she wants to provide an alternative choice for Russian voters who are frustrated with mainstream politicians.

Alexei Navalny, a fierce critic of Putin, has said he believes Sobchak is being used by the Kremlin to blunt protests by liberals alienated from the political process, though she has denied doing the Kremlin's bidding.

"I tell you honestly: I'm running against everyone, and this refers to Vladimir Putin," she said. But she added: "I personally will not insult Putin.

"For some, he is a tyrant and dictator... but for me this is a person who, first of all, helped my father in a difficult situation and de facto saved his life," she told a news conference to unveil her campaign team.

She did however state her opposition to Putin possibly running for a fourth term in power.

"I am against the corrupt system which was built in our country during these years and I am against anyone, including Putin, being in power for 18 years."

"The fact that the country has no fair elections is the result of those 18 years."

Sobchak is the daughter of Anatoly Sobchak, a reformist Petersburg mayor who hired Putin as an official in City Hall in the 1990s. Sobchak became his mentor.

Sobchak lost the mayor's job in a 1996 election. He later moved to France and became the subject of a criminal investigation in Russia for receiving bribes and abuse of office. He denied wrongdoing, saying the case was politically motivated.

The case against him was dropped in 1999, soon after Putin became prime minister. When Sobchak died in 2000, Putin attended his funeral.

Opinion polls show that Putin, 65, who has dominated Russian politics for nearly two decades, will comfortably win re-election if, as most analysts expect, he decides to seek a fourth term in March. He has so far kept silent about his plans.

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