Ksenia Sobchak, a former reality TV star, challenges Putin

MOSCOW -- A reality TV star-turned-politician is challenging the establishment -- this time, in Russia.

Ksenia Sobchak is already unofficially campaigning for Russia's top job. She spoke on Tuesday at a student rally in St. Petersburg. 

Sobchak may be a new face in national politics, but she's been a Russian celebrity for years. Known as a glamorous socialite, Playboy model and scandalous reality television star, she's morphed -- again -- as an unlikely challenger to Russian President Vladimir Putin -- but one with no illusions. 

palmer-russian-challenger-3-2017-11-28.jpg

Ksenia Sobchak is a former reality TV star challenging Putin.

CBS News

"No way Putin will let anyone take away his power," Sobchak told CBS News. "Even if all the people of Russia voted for me."

She admits she's a protest candidate. And here's her potential base: Russians fed up with censorship, rigged elections and corruption, who last got to protest en masse in 2011. 

"I don't want people to vote personally for me," Sobchak said. "I want them to vote against the system."

palmer-russian-challenger-2-2017-11-28.jpg

Ksenia Sobchak

CBS News

The system's official media is off-limits, so Sobchak is campaigning online -- inspired by modern American politics.

Her strategist is Washington-based Vitali Shkliarov, who worked on Bernie Sanders' campaign. He said he learned "quite a lot" during Sanders' campaign.

"In America you have software where you can manage entire campaign remotely," Shkliarov said. "You can build infrastructure and scale it."

palmer-russian-challenger-2017-11-28.jpg

Vitali Shkliarov

CBS News

Sobchak's team wants to mobilize millions, especially young voters, to shake up Russian politics and weaken the Kremlin. But the challenge is huge. First, she has to convince voters she's not just a party girl or a photogenic Kremlin puppet brought in to spice up the race.

The catch is: if she succeeds and starts to look like a real threat, the Kremlin could just decide not to let her run at all.

  • Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."