Yes, Sobchak knows lots of powerful people, beginning with her mother, a lawmaker in Russia’s Federation Council. Sobchak doesn’t say much about her mother, Lyudmila Narusova, who belongs to one of the two pro-Kremlin parties that dominate the parliament. But she’s been spotted in Narusova’s burgundy Mercedes, which has government license plates and is therefore immune to traffic cops. And no doubt, all these people would happily help Sobchak embark on a political career. (Not out of the question: Last year she founded her own youth movement, All Free. The movement’s stated goal was to teach young Russians how to be free—not a bad idea, given today’s climate—but most political consultants appear to have written it off.) Still, Sobchak says her on-air accomplishments are her own. “It was very important to me that I be my own person,” she says. “That’s why I chose show business. You can’t make people watch TV because you’re someone’s daughter.” But success in Putin’s Russia, political or otherwise, often means presidential patronage. The Kremlin controls all major television stations. And there are few investors who’d throw much cash at a movie that slammed the president. Unlike in the United States, where popular culture often lampoons or questions the establishment, in Russia, the hip, the now, is also the ruling class. There is no division of power.
Critics—the liberal cognoscenti, the reformers, the people who bemoan the fall of the House of Sobchak and the death of Russian democracy—say the little girl has grown up into a marionette, working, acting, distracting on behalf of the Kremlin, which would rather the masses focus on a blondinka in a mermaid outfit than important things like Chechnya or civil liberties. “The regime needs her to keep the freedom charade going,” says Nina Khrushcheva, an international-affairs expert at the New School in New York and the great-granddaughter of onetime Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev. “Paris Hilton, as annoying and ridiculous as she is, has no bearing on politics and remains just entertainment. In Russia, where everything is about politics, Ms. Sobchak performs an important function.”