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Debut of Ms Gorbachev

Paris, Dec. 1: Xenia Virganskaya Gorbachev, the 20-year-old granddaughter of the former Soviet President, has become the talk of Paris, as the city awaits her grand entrance to European high society at one of France’s most prestigious debutantes’ balls this week.

Xenia Gorbachev, a Moscow University student, will be the star guest at the annual Crillon Haute Couture Ball — known as “Le Bal des Debutantes” — next Saturday evening. The lavish event is the highlight of the social calendar for the daughters of rich and aristocratic families from around the world. Past debutantes have included President George W. Bush’s niece, Lauren, and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s daughter, Barbara.

It is a sign that old elitist habits die hard in France and indicative of a new generation of privileged Russians who behave as though there had never been a revolution. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia’s leaders and their families have abandoned any attempt to shy away from public displays of wealth and privilege previously condemned as criminally capitalist.

Former first lady Raisa Gorbachev, who died in September 1999, was lambasted in the Russian press during her husband Mikhail’s presidency — from 1985 to 1991 — for her designer outfits, trips abroad and reports that she had her own American Express card.

Today’s generation of Russian “rich kids”, who jet regularly to Paris, London and Mediterranean beaches, would not dream of leaving home without one.

This summer the two daughters of President Vladimir Putin, 17-year-old Masha and Katya, 16, spent a month in Sardinia, swimming, sunbathing, sightseeing and shopping while staying at La Certosa, the opulent summer residence of Berlusconi.

Xenia Gorbachev, the eldest daughter of the Gorbachevs’ only child, Irina, is studying for a degree in public relations. She will fly to Paris with her fiance Kirill Solod, a fellow student at Moscow University whom she plans to marry next April.

She will wear a gown encrusted with jewels, reportedly worth more than £15,000 which she is borrowing from Christian Dior, the haute couture house, to lead 23 other debutantes onto a catwalk before taking part in the ball.

Orphelie Renouard, the organiser of the Crillon Ball, said Gorbachev had been keen to take part. “I wrote inviting her and she replied immediately. She is a very nice girl, extremely pretty,” she said. “Her sister Anastasia, who is 16, is very keen to take part in the next ball.”

The children of famous parents in Russia have always — even under Communist rule — been accustomed to a life of privilege. Since the emergence of a new capitalist culture, however, the families of the rich and powerful are parading their exclusivity with new-found arrogance.

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