A week after fleeing Russia for the West amid fear of arrest, there are suggestions that Vladimir Putin’s ‘goddaughter’ is soon to return to her homeland.
TV star and opposition politician Ksenia Sobchak, 40, was seen last week walking across the border between Belarus and Lithuania in dramatic CCTV footage.
Her attempt to flee came after her luxury home near Moscow was searched amid reports she was a suspect in a criminal case that could see her jailed for up to 15 years.
She has remained largely quiet since fleeing Russia, having shared only one short message to her followers that read: ‘Yes, I am in trouble. Possibly, in big trouble.’
But her mother Lyudmila Narusova, a senator, told a state-run news agency that Ksenia is set to return to her homeland, saying: ‘She will, very soon.’
Narusova confirmed her daughter had used an Israeli passport to flee to EU country Lithuania, noting that ‘the Constitution of the Russian Federation allows dual citizenship’.
Contrary to earlier fears, Narusova claimed that Ksenia was not a suspect in an extortion case against her business partner Kirill Sukhanov and former Russian Tatler editor Arian Romanovsky.
Her lawyers were appealing against the move to search her house, said Narusova, who has been a staunch critic of Putin’s war in Ukraine.
Sobchak’s desperate dash to Lithuania came amid suspicions she was tipped off by a senior Russian official of moves to arrest her, giving her time to flee.
TV anchor and journalist Ksenia Sobchak attends a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in Saint Petersburg, Russia
A socialite-turned-politician, Sobchak was once called the Paris Hilton of Moscow
CCTV footage appeared to show the moment Sobchak fled to the West on foot to avoid arrest – hours after police raided her mansion
Sobchak, who has known Putin (pictured) since she was a child, fled Russia for Belarus before entering Lithuania hours after Russian investigators raided her luxury home in a prestigious Moscow suburb
Ksenia Sobchak’s commercial director Kirill Sukhanov is pictured in court
As she left the country Sobchak was named as a suspect in the same case as Sukhanov and Romanovsky, namely ‘extortion to obtain property on a particularly large scale’.
But Narusova has pointed to reports that her daughter is no longer a suspect in the case, and Sobchak had earlier dismissed Sukhanov’s detention as ‘laughable nonsense.’
The moves were ‘more oppression’ against her and the Russian media, she said.
The alleged victim of the ‘extortion’ was Sergey Chemezov, CEO of Rostec Corporation, a close KGB colleague of Putin’s in the Cold War who has remained close ever since.
CCTV footage which emerged last week appeared to show the moment Sobchak fled to the West on foot to avoid arrest – hours after police raided her mansion.
The TV star was seen crossing the Belarusian border into Lithuania, a member of NATO, at the Vidzy frontier point 106 miles north of Minsk, according to reports.
CCTV appears to show Sobchak, accompanied by an unknown man, covering her face and wearing a cap as she crosses the border, reports RIA Novosti news agency.
The extraordinary video was apparently leaked from Belarusian border cameras – and Lithuania later confirmed that Sobchak had entered the Baltic state using an Israeli passport.
Sobchak, who has known Putin since she was a child, fled Russia for Belarus before entering Lithuania hours after Russian investigators raided her luxury home in a prestigious Moscow suburb.
The CCTV from the Belarusian border reportedly shows a man carrying Sobchak’s bag and at one point, he appears to look back to see if they are being followed.
The CCTV footage from the Belarusian border appears to show a man carrying Sobchak’s bag and at one point, he appears to look back to see if they are being followed. At one point the man appears to warn Sobchak to lower her head to avoid being seen by the cameras
Sobchak (pictured) fled Russia for Belarus before entering Lithuania hours after Russian investigators raided her luxury home in a prestigious Moscow suburb
Sobchak’s father is former St Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, pictured here with wife Liudmila, and Vladimir Putin (circled), who he was close friends with
At one point the man appears to warn Sobchak to lower her head to avoid being seen by the cameras.
The footage apparently shows Sobchak going through Belarus passport control at 13.32 local time on Wednesday and telling a border control officer that she is heading to Lithuania.
Sobchak is then seen being accompanied by two uniformed men as she carries her own bag to the actual frontier.
The video was leaked, likely with official sanction, to a Telegram channel called Three Sisters with less than 2,000 subscribers.
It has links to the security apparatus of Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko.
Lithuania’s Director of the State Security Department (VSD) Darius Jauniškis confirmed that Sobchak had entered Lithuania.
He told radio station Zhinyu Radijas that she had Israeli citizenship and could enter without a visa and remain for 90 days without a visa.
Earlier in the war Sobchak had travelled to Israel and back to Russia but at the time denied reports that she had been issued with an Israeli passport.
Lithuania normally now blocks entry to Russian citizens due to Putin’s war.
Separately, Russian political scientist Sergei Markov claimed that a ‘high-ranking official’ had tipped off Sobchak that she faced arrest.
The timing of the Russian state media announcement that she had left Belarus for Lithuania was only 36 minutes after she had apparently been cleared for exit by the Belarus border guard.
This may indicate that Putin had given her tacit permission to flee to the West rather than see his ‘goddaughter’ held in detention like his other political foes.
The footage apparently shows Sobhak going through Belarus passport control at 13.32 local time on Wednesday and telling a border control officer that she is heading to Lithuania
Putin, Lyudmila Narusova, and Ksenia Sobchak pictured together in St Petersburg in November 2003
Sobchak reportedly bought tickets to both Turkey and Dubai to ‘confuse’ state investigators seeking her arrest.
Then she travelled to Belarus by car and left for the West in a ‘smart operational escape plan in order to avoid arrest’ using her Israeli passport.
A socialite-turned-politician, Sobchak was once called the Paris Hilton of Moscow.
She was a popular reality TV presenter and once posed for Playboy.
She hosted the Russian version of Big Brother and went on to stand as a liberal candidate against Putin in the 2018 presidential election – rigged in Putin’s favour – when she came fourth.
One of Russia’s best known faces, she now runs independent media outlets which have angered Putin’s officials.
Putin has known her since her childhood and he attended her baptism in the Orthodox Church, leading to rumours he is her godfather.
Her father, Anatoly Sobchak, was Putin’s law professor and mentor who later gave the KGB spy his first foothold in politics as his deputy when he served as mayor of St Petersburg.
Later Putin even smuggled Ksenia’s father out of Russia for medical treatment in the West at a time when his patron was accused by foes of corruption.
Putin was later pictured at the former mayor’s funeral in 2000, alongside Ksenia, and her mother Lyudmila Narusova, now a Russian senator who opposes the war in Ukraine.
Ksenia was earlier a popular reality TV host and posed for Playboy before going into politics
Narusova has voted against war-linked legislation in the Russian parliament and accused his state TV of ‘shameless lies’ over the conflict.
Despite criticising Putin, Ksenia held a private meeting with the Russian leader before announcing she would oppose him in the poll.
This led to claims that she was conspiring with him to give a cloak of respectability to a rigged election.
The close family links have not saved Ksenia Sobchak from harassment by Putin’s police.
She fled dramatically from Russia via Belarus hours after police staged searches at her luxury country home near Moscow.
This was linked to a murky criminal investigation which saw the arrest on Tuesday of her commercial director Kirill Sukhanov, and a former Russian Tatler editor, Arian Romanovsky, on blackmail allegations.
Sobchak was named as a suspect in the same case, namely ‘extortion to obtain property on a particularly large scale’.
Footage showed the men – who face sentences of up to 15 years – in court.
Had she not fled, Sobchak would also have been brought to court on the same accusation.
Police were reported as seeking to detain Sobchak at a VIP Moscow airport when it was announced she had reached the West by land.
The alleged victim of the ‘blackmail’ was Sergey Chemezov, CEO of Rostec Corporation, a close KGB colleague of Putin’s in the Cold War who has remained close ever since.
Sobchak had dismissed Sukhanov’s detention as ‘simply delirium’, adding: ‘It is laughable, nonsense.’
The moves were ‘more oppression’ against her and the Russian media.
She said her outlets were ‘the last free media office in Russia’, which Putin’s regime had decided to ‘shut’.
‘They have got nothing to dig on us, which infuriates them,’ she said of Putin’s authorities.
When details of the criminal case emerged, pro-Putin propagandist Sergei Mardan said it was a warning for her to flee.
‘The land is burning under Sobchak and the best way out would be to change her country of residence, and at the same time citizenship,’ he posted.
‘Perhaps the detention of Kirill Sukhanov and the searches at Sobchak’s place are a subtle hint ‘from above’ about the undesirability of her further stay on the territory of Russia.’
Political scientist Sergei Markov said: ‘If you are ready to arrest for a trifle, for simple extortion, for money, even the daughter of President Putin’s beloved teacher and mentor, who everyone forgave for many years, then there are no untouchables now.’
The exit of Sobchak, who was both loved and loathed, led to trolling on social media, accusing her of abandoning her motherland.
She had earlier denied claims she had secret Israeli citizenship, and insisted she would not quit Russia.
In the footage she appeared to use a Russian passport as she left Belarus.
She has previously said: ‘I am Russian, I am a citizen of Russia.
‘I do not emigrate anywhere, I have no other citizenships.’
There is no passport control between ‘union state’ Russia and Belarus, which means the Vidzy crossing acted as her exit point from Russia.
Belarus has been used as a transit point by some escapees from Putin’s mobilisation in recent weeks.