VILNIUS (Reuters) – Russian media figure Ksenia Sobchak is in Lithuania after entering the country on her Israeli passport, the head of Lithuania’s counter-intelligence service said on Thursday, a day after Russian police searched one of her houses.
Sobchak is famous inside Russia where she has taken on various journalistic, celebrity and political roles over the years and has long-standing family connections to President Vladimir Putin.
The property belonging to Sobchak, 40, was searched on Wednesday by Russian police as part of a criminal case against her commercial director, the state-owned news agency TASS reported, citing law enforcement agencies, who said Sobchak herself was not a suspect.
Sobchak suggested on her Telegram channel that the case that triggered the search was politically-motivated however, and linked to a documentary she had made on the use of torture in Russian prisons.
TASS earlier this month reported that Sobchak herself faced a criminal investigation over a story she had done that police suspect was “fake”, though suggested the subject of the offending material was the “state funding of festivals.”
She is the daughter of the late Anatoly Sobchak, St Petersburg’s mayor in the 1990s, who was Putin’s boss and friend. The two families had close ties, sometimes holidaying together.
Her long-standing family connection to Putin has been a source of suspicion among parts of the anti-Kremlin opposition movement, much of which is now outside Russia, despite her own involvement with it at times.
TASS had reported, citing law enforcement sources, that Sobchak had left Russia on the night between Tuesday and Wednesday, crossing the Belarus-Lithuania border, after tricking the Russian authorities by purchasing – but not using – plane tickets from Moscow to Turkey and Dubai.
“Without any doubt, she is (in Lithuania)… I confirm the fact”, Darius Jauniskis, who heads the Baltic country’s counter-intelligence service, told the Ziniu radio station on Thursday morning.
“As an Israeli citizen, with a valid passport, she doesn’t need a visa and can enter Lithuania and stay here for up to 90 days”, he added.
Israel’s daily Haaretz newspaper reported in April that Sobchak acquired Israeli citizenship after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Sobchak’s Telegram channel, which frequently carries reports critical of government policy, has 1.4 million followers.
She ran for the Russian presidency in 2018, winning less than 2% of the vote, in what her critics derided as a publicity stunt that helped the Kremlin create the impression inside Russia that the election, won by Putin, was competitive.
Sobchak said she had genuinely wanted to win the contest and was interested in politics and bringing about change.
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; Editing by Andrew Osborn and William Maclean)