It’s all but certain that Vladimir Putin will stand for a fourth term as president when Russia holds its next election in March.
It’s less certain who the Kremlin will allow -- or persuade -- to stand as a challenger to the popular leader in an effort to give the appearance of competition, what an influential Putin adviser once called “managed democracy.”
Crusading anticorruption lawyer Aleksei Navalny wants to run, and has enough charisma, clout, and independence that officials have gone after him with a financial-crimes prosecution that has made him legally ineligible to run.
Now, according to Vedomosti, there’s another idea floating around political circles: enlisting a female candidate to run against Putin.
Citing several unnamed sources “close to the presidential administration,” the business newspaper reported on September 1 that five to seven women have been identified as potential candidates; three are members of A Just Russia, a political party set up in 2006 as an alternative to the ruling party, United Russia.
One of those reportedly under consideration, Natalya Velikaya, told the paper that having a female candidate was smart.
“There’s demand in society for women in politics. This will increase interest in predictable elections,” she was quoted as saying.
Vedomosti cited another source as saying the ideal candidate would, in fact, be none other than Ksenia Sobchak, a socialite, TV host, and actress whose father was mayor of St. Petersburg in the early 1990s and an early political backer of Putin. Formerly known as “Russia’s Paris Hilton,” she’s become a more outspoken opposition activist in recent years.
Sobchak, meanwhile, was quick to quash the idea.
"Who’s talking about what up in the top offices, I don’t know, but I’ve been closely following the political landscape for a long time. I have just one diagnosis,” she wrote in a post on her Instagram account. "Your politics today are dismal crap, gentlemen. Boring and detestable."
While Putin hasn’t formally committed to running in March, he has hinted that he will. With his wide popularity, a lack of alternatives, and the Kremlin's tight grip on most media, most Russia watchers expect he will decisively win another six-year term, which would make him the longest-serving Russian leader since Josef Stalin.