Ksenia Sobchak's timing was impeccable.
As more than 100,000 gathered in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium to pay homage to Vladimir Putin
, the 30-year-old socialite-turned-social commentator posted a darkly satirical video
on YouTube parodying the spate of faux -- and often forced -- demonstrations of fealty toward the once-and-future Russian president.
Sobchak's video, which has attracted nearly 200,000 views (and counting), doesn't mention Putin by name. But it is an unmistakable parody of the series of celebrity "I'm Voting For Putin" clips the Kremlin spin doctors have been producing recently.
WATCH IT HERE:
In the video, Sobchak -- normally exquisitely groomed and hyperconfident -- appears pale, ragged, and frightened. Her eyes dart about and avoid the camera as she reads her script.
I have decided to vote for this candidate because the economy and standard of living in our country have become much better," she says. "He has always been responsive to any request. He has helped us all. And especially now, with the threat of an Orange Revolution like in Syria or Libya, we can't rock the boat. We must rally around one leader. This is why I made this difficult decision.
The camera then pans out to reveal Sobchak tied to a chair as a tough-looking guy in a leather jacket enters the frame. "Nice job," he says to Sobchak as he pats her on the head and tapes her mouth shut, muffling her desperate screams. Two masked police officers then carry her off.
"So was everything OK with the camera? Was the sound alright?" the man asks the film crew. "OK then, let's bring in Venediktov," he adds, referring to Ekho Moskvy's editor in chief, Aleksei Venediktov.
The slickly produced video is undeniably clever and funny. But it also has a dark and ominous subtext. It comes just weeks after the popular actress Chulpan Khamatova, who runs a charity for cancer-stricken children, was reportedly
pressured into making a pro-Putin video.
WATCH IT HERE:
In a report in OpenSpace.ru
, the journalist Svetlana Reiter quoted Khamatova's colleagues as saying the actress' "arm was twisted" and she was threatened with having aid to her charity cut off and "her reputation destroyed" if she refused. One colleague said Khamatova wept about having to make the video.
Sobchak's satirical clip also comes amid widespread reports
of public-sector workers being ordered to attend pro-Putin rallies like today's or risk being fired.
The video marks the latest episode in Sobchak's evolution from being a child of privilege, reality-show hostess, and socialite into her current incarnation as a major player in Russia's new media ecosystem who demands to be -- and deserves to be -- taken seriously.
As the daughter of the late Anatoly Sobchak -- the Perestroika-era democratic leader who served as St. Petersburg's mayor from 1991-96 and gave Putin his first job in government as his deputy -- she has always enjoyed a certain degree of immunity.
But unlike in her days as the youthful hostess of the steamy reality show "Dom-2," a more mature Sobchak is now using her protected status for more than just self-promotion. She has spoken out forcefully at opposition rallies and has a large following on Twitter, where she regularly opines about Russia's political situation.
And on her new show on Dozhd TV she has shown herself to be an exceptionally skilled interviewer with an uncanny ability to draw out her subjects' true personalities. (If you don't believe me, watch her own A Just Russia leader Sergei Mironov here
, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov here
, and far-right leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky here
. The latter is particularly impressive. I have never seen any journalist make the normally cocksure Zhirinovsky squirm like she did.)
She is not completely immune. Prior to signing on with Dozhd, her political talk show "GosDep" on Russian MTV was abruptly canceled, reportedly over her plan to have anticorruption blogger and Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny on as a guest.
In many ways, Sobchak is emblematic of Russia's rising generation. Like Dozhd TV's 31-year-old editor in chief, Mikhail Zygar
and the 26-year-old
rapper Noize MC
, she is smart, socially conscious, tech-savvy, poised, and supremely confident.
If people like this represent Russia's future, the country should end up in fine shape.
-- Brian Whitmore