Russian TV personality Ksenia Sobchak — the glamorous daughter of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s one-time boss — has arrived in Lithuania on an Israeli passport after fleeing Russian investigators who raided her home this week, officials said Thursday.
“Citizens of (Israel) do not need a visa and are allowed to stay in the country for 90 days,” Darius Jauniskis, head of Lithuania’s State Security Department, told a local radio station. Jauniskis said Lithuania has no evidence of any threat that Sobchak could pose to national security.
“If we had anything, certain appropriate measures would be taken,” he told the Ziniu Radijas station.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told reporters that “Ms. Sobchak currently is not included in any sanctions list of the EU, UK or the US This does not mean that it cannot occur.”
Landbergis said Sobschak might already have left Lithuania as she had entered Europe’s passport-free travel zone — a 26-country area made up of most of the EU members plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Israeli citizens with a valid passport can travel freely within Europe’s visa-free zone, known as the Schengen area.
“Ms. Sobchak might have left Lithuania’s territory already because she is not restricted in her movement to Poland, to other European countries, or to the north,” he said, according to the Baltic News Service, the region’s main news agency.
A video from a surveillance camera shows Sobchak entering Lithuania on foot and talking to border officials.
Lithuania and other Baltic states along with Poland stopped admitting Russian citizens who hold a valid Schengen visa back in September, a move to support Ukraine. Hundreds were turned away, but many still entered after presenting passports of other countries at the border.
Sobchak, 40, has often been critical of Putin, but many Russian opposition figures have accused her of serving the Kremlin’s agenda. In 2018, she became a liberal challenger in Russia’s presidential election, finishing a distant fourth with about 1.7% of the vote in what her critics described as a Kremlin effort to add a democratic veneer to Putin’s sweeping re-election.
Russian media claimed she had bought tickets to Dubai and Turkey to mislead the authorities but eventually left for Belarus, from where she traveled to Lithuania. The reports claimed that investigators suspected Sobchak of being involved in an extortion scheme along with her media director and alleged that a warrant was issued for her arrest.
The Russian news agency Tass also cited information from the probe indicating that Sergei Chemezov, a longtime Putin associate who heads the state Rostec corporation, a conglomerate controlling Russian aviation industries and other high-tech assets, was the victim of alleged extortion.
The claims could not be independently confirmed.
Sobchak dismissed the case as the Russian government’s attempt to put pressure on her media group.
“It is clear that it’s an attack on my editorial team, the last remaining free editorial team in Russia which had to be pressured,” Sobchak said on Telegram, which has 1.4 million followers.
Sobchak, the daughter of Anatoly Sobchak, a liberal mayor of St. Petersburg for whom Putin served as a deputy in the 1990s, has extensive contacts among Russia’s rich and powerful, and the search for her home topped domestic news.
She has 9.4 million followers on Instagram, and her glamour, sharp wit and defiant ways have made her both loved and loathed. Sobchak first gained fame as a fashionable socialite and reality TV star and was once dubbed the “Russian Paris Hilton,” but later sought to shed her spoiled and arrogant image. She got involved in politics when joining the massive protests in Moscow against Putin in 2011-12, and later reinvented herself as a serious TV journalist and opposition activist.
Sobchak has denied serving the Kremlin’s agenda by running as a challenger to Putin in 2018. Opposition leader Alexei Navalny denounced her for discrediting the opposition by joining the race, saying that she was a “parody of a liberal candidate” and her involvement in the campaign helped the Kremlin cast the opposition in a negative light.
Kirill Sukhanov, the commercial director of Attention Media, was arrested earlier in the week as part of the investigation.
Attention Media runs a number of social media projects, including Sobchak’s YouTube channel that has over three million subscribers.
“Kirill, we love you and we don’t believe anything,” Sobchak said on Telegram.
AFP contributed to this report.