So who exactly is playing whom here?
The conventional wisdom on Ksenia Sobchak's decision to run in next year's presidential elections is as clear as it is cynical.
Sobchak cut a deal with the Kremlin and agreed to be the token liberal candidate in exchange for being allowed back on state-controlled television channels.
Her candidacy will help legitimize Vladimir Putin's inevitable coronation by generating excitement and boosting turnout in what everybody understands are stage-managed elections.
It also appears designed to neutralize Aleksei Navalny, who will not be allowed on the ballot, but who nonetheless promises to be a factor by campaigning anyway and mocking the fake election from the sidelines.
So Sobchak has agreed to be the Kremlin's patsy, right?
Well, not so fast. Because I'm not ready to rule out that she's playing her own game here -- and it is a game that could turn out to be dangerous for the Putin regime.
One hint of this came when Sobchak told Dozhd-TV that she was ready to withdraw her candidacy if Navalny were allowed to run.
Now, elections in Russia are not about the result, which is pretty much preordained.
They're legitimization rituals. They're all about the Kremlin putting on a good show and telling a compelling story.
Navalny's virtual campaign from the sidelines was already threatening to spoil the party from the outside.
And now by introducing somebody like Sobchak into the equation, somebody who knows a thing or two about putting on a show, the Kremlin may turn out to have been too clever by half.
Because, combined with the Navalny factor, the Sobchak factor could end up spinning this thing in unpredictable -- and potentially unmanageable -- directions.
Putin will win, of course. But it may turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory.
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