For expertise on shipbuilding in Russia-annexed Crimea, a 19-year-old marketing student based in Paris might seem like an unusual choice.
But for many observers in Russia, where children of the ruling elite often snag plum positions tied to the state, the appearance of Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov’s daughter at a Sevastopol shipyard this week was just the latest example of a system rife with cronyism and nepotism.
Yelizaveta Peskova, who has documented her jet-set lifestyle on social media, was widely ridiculed for her August 1-2 visit as part of a pro-Kremlin delegation to the shipyard, where she said the industry needs better “PR” and that there’s nothing "to be ashamed of" about building ships.
The visit to the Southern Sevastopol shipyard, which has been locked in a land dispute with the city government, was the most recent public foray into the Russian political world for Peskova, whose studies in France have triggered criticism of her father.
The Russian opposition, led by Kremlin foe and anticorruption campaigner Aleksei Navalny, has long accused senior officials of hypocritically whipping up anti-Western sentiment at home while shipping their children off to travel, study, and live in the West.
Critics of President Vladimir Putin's administration also accuse the ruling elite of pulling strings to secure lucrative jobs for their relatives in the government or state-connected companies.
Peskova, the Putin spokesman’s daughter from his first marriage, has defended her father against accusations of corruption by Navalny and others. But until recently, her image has been mainly that of a socialite who posts glamorous images of herself on Instagram -- her main social-media venue.
Over the past several months, she has dipped her toe in Russian politics, publicly opining on youth activism, attending a meeting of bloggers organized by a lawmaker in Russia’s lower house of parliament, and traveling to Chechnya to meet -- and dance -- with Kremlin-backed strongman Ramzan Kadyrov.
Then, in July, she announced that she had joined Avanti, a lobby group founded by Russian businessman and former senior lawmaker Umar Dzhabrailov that has the stated mission of promoting “patriotic business.”
It was with Avanti, where Peskova serves as an adviser on youth politics, that she arrived in Sevastopol. The announcement of the August 1-2 visit immediately drew mockery on social media.
“Liza Peskova will fly to Syria and deal with ISIS. After that she’ll solve the North Korea-U.S. problems,” one Twitter user wrote.
Kremlin critics offered comparably searing takes on comments she delivered in Sevastopol. At one point, she said that she doesn’t “know a single person who would even think that there are people who build ships” and that “we need to build a PR strategy for shipbuilding.”
Wearing a dress she said was from a design collection by Kadyrov’s daughter, Peskova added that young people should be shown that shipbuilding “is prestigious work and not seen as something to be ashamed of.”
Navalny, who has published several high-profile investigations of Peskov’s wealth, quipped on his website that Peskova is a “ready-made government minister or head of a state corporation.”
“A new star has finally appeared on the horizon of our government’s feudal personnel policies,” Navalny wrote.
A spokeswoman for Peskova told RFE/RL on August 3 that her client “is not giving comments at this time.”
Peskov has previously come under fire for his daughter’s decision to live in France not only from opposition corners but from Putin supporters as well.
Tatyana Stanovaya, a political analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center who studies Russia’s elites, told RFE/RL that amid mounting tensions between Russia and the West -- most notably over sanctions -- the foreign-based children of Russian officials will likely face heightened pressure to return home.
“It will be harder for them to live comfortably in Western countries, because they will face questions both from the West and from Russia: ‘Why do you continue living in rotting Europe,’ as Russian patriots like to say, ‘and not come home and serve the motherland?’” Stanovaya said.
Oleg Kashin, a prominent Russian journalist and political observer, suggested Peskova’s trip to Sevastopol was less likely a case of nepotism than a card played by the lobby group in the shipyard’s conflict with the local government.
“Sevastopol authorities are taking land away from the yard, and in this situation, even some ridiculous federal support for the yard would be most welcome,” he wrote for the Russian news site Republic.ru.
He added, however, that Peskova is unlikely to escape her status as a Russian official’s daughter, even if she “wants to live the carefree Parisian life, like in the film Amelie, and laugh at the idiocy that rules at home.”
“You’re the daughter, and if your parents don’t secure a place for you in the state hierarchy -- whether it's because they didn’t want to, or you didn’t want it, it doesn’t matter -- the hierarchy will come to you and suck you in,” Kashin wrote.