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Russian reality TV star, Putin opponent says she believes in ‘the Trump effect’

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WARNING: Video contains graphic language. Discretion advised. Former reality TV host and lone female Russian presidential candidate, Ksenia Sobchak, throws water on her opponent, who in turn calls her derogatory names – Mar 1, 2018

The former Russian reality television show host, Ksenia Sobchak, says she’s channelling the “Trump effect” in her campaign for the Russian presidency.

“My popularity is huge. I’m the only person … known to all Russian people like Putin. There is no one else in the country who is as well-known as me,” the 36-year-old said in an interview with the Associated Press.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has been in power for three terms, and announce near the end of last year that he would seek re-election once again. The president enjoys an approval rating of more than 80 per cent, though he’s been accused of unfairly compromising elections in the past.

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Sobchak has been vocal about wanting political change in Russia, and first got involved in politics when she joined the massive protests against Putin in 2011-12.

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She’s hosted several shows throughout her career but first gained fame during her tenure hosting the reality show Dom-2 between 2004 and 2012. She has over 5.4 million followers on Instagram and has remade herself as a journalist and opposition activist since her years as in reality TV.

While she knows she can’t win, Sobchak sees this as an opportunity to highlight several issues that she believes should be written into Russian policy.

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“What I do is good for Russian opposition,” she said. “What I do is I speak freely on the things and items that were never discussed loudly with Russian public for years. And I think this is actually the most positive thing that can be done during those elections,” she told the Associated Press.

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She said in an interview with CNN Thursday night that while she isn’t a fan of the U.S. president, she believes using his strategy of discussing sensitive subjects blithely is working for her.

“The strategy is actually working. The Trump effect is something I really believe in,” she told CNN. She went on to say that she considers herself to be a “Trump vice-versa.”

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She explained that by employing Trump’s strategy of saying “shocking” things, the issues she hopes to highlight are widely accepted in the Western world and yet still controversial among Russian citizens. She uses LGBTQ rights and the annexation of Crimea as an example.

“So in a way, yes, I’m shocking people in a way with what I say, but I really think that these things are normal, and that these things should be implemented into Russian politics. Unfortunately I’m the first person to do it there,” she said.

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Despite Putin’s popularity, protests against the Russian president have become more common in recent years. Hundreds of Russian nationalists were arrested in anti-Putin protests before Christmas, and hundreds more marched in January to protest the lack of choice in the country’s upcoming March election.

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Russia’s most popular opposition candidate, Alexei Navalny has been barred from running because of a prior political conviction that he’s called politically motivated. Navalny was detained three times in 2017 for organizing anti-Putin rallies.

Sobchak argues that Navalny’s strategy to defeat Putin won’t be successful.

“Navalny is a big hero, but he chose a way where he would either be put to jail or he would be marginalized,” she said.

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The activist and TV journalist has been featured on many talk shows, where she openly criticizes Putin and the Russian government. Pundits have predicted that Sobchak’s involvement in the election could be simply a Kremlin ploy to help draw young voters to the polls and build up suspense around Putin’s victory.

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Sobchak has denied any connection to the Kremlin and said Friday that she wants to be a voice of “the people who want to destroy the system they consider unfair.”

— With files from the Associated Press. 

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