Exeter, Devon UK • Apr 18, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home Features Who is Boris Nadezhdin?

Who is Boris Nadezhdin?

Paris Gill profiles Boris Nadezhdin, the Putin challenger, and assesses whether democracy is a lost cause in Russia.
5 min read
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Image: Angel Miklashevsky of the Kremlin Senate via Wikimedia Commons

On 31st of January, a new challenger entered the Kremlin ring of presidential candidates. On 8th February, he was blocked from running. Boris Nadezhdin officially submitted the legal maximum of 105,000 signatures to the Central Election Commission in Moscow on the 31st in order to be listed on the presidential election ballot. Nadezhdin stated he collected 208,000 in total from more than “120 or 130 cities”.

To the news of his running, the West reacted in optimistic shock. Boris Nadezhdin was the only candidate who “wants to stop the military action” in Ukraine, a voter told CNN. The hundreds of thousands of signatures represent a social anti-war pressure against Vladimir Putin, who announced at the end of 2023 he would be running for a fifth term. Putin is running as an independent candidate and has collected over 3 million signatures.

There was wide discussion on why, like so many other opposers before him, Nadezhdin was yet to be detained in some form by the Kremlin during his signature collection. The 60-year-old, who has described himself as lacking charisma or heroism, was endorsed by the wife of the late opposition figure Alexei Navalny, exiled oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsy, and former lawmaker Yekatarina Duntsova. Duntsova was the previous main anti-war candidate until the Kremlin also denied her candidacy through “alleged technical errors” in her application.

[H]is pledges have included ending the war in Ukraine and the mobilisation of men for the military, starting a dialogue with the West, lessening abortion restrictions and easing the repression of LGBTQ+ activism.

Boris Nadezhdin was an unlikely candidate to be the prime opposition for Putin, and an incredibly progressive alternative. Running for the Civic Initiative Party which is not represented in parliament, his pledges have included ending the war in Ukraine and the mobilisation of men for the military, starting a dialogue with the West, lessening abortion restrictions and easing the repression of LGBTQ+ activism. His manifesto calls the 2022 invasion of Ukraine a “fatal mistake”.

Prior to his campaign, Mr Nadezhdin was a close associate of opposition politician Boris Nemstov who was murdered outside the Kremlin in 2015. Career-wise, he previously served in the State Duma and was a member of many right-wing political parties and groups such as “A Just Russia”, the “Union of Right Forces” which has led in the governance of Russian-occupied Ukraine, and “Right Cause”.

However despite his right-wing past, he is more often described as a liberal politician, in accordance with his 2024 pledges and war criticism. For instance, despite “A Just Russia” currently being sympathetic to Putin’s agenda, Nadezhdin has criticised the current President for his “militarism, authoritarianism, [and] isolation”. He states that ever since the arrest of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky in 2003 he has “been in opposition” to Putin.

Nadezhdin acknowledged his potential defeat and the probable danger he is in by attempting to run in the coming election. He stated in the CNN interview he “doesn’t know why I’m not arrested”. He has now however been barred from running: the approval of his application, where Mrs Duntsova’s candidacy was banned, was also his downfall.

The Election Commission found “dead souls” among the signatures submitted, which was a sign of potential disqualification. Nadezhdin was summoned to the Commission on 5th February for a review of the “errors”, where 15% of the signatures would potentially be discarded. According to Russian electoral law, candidates may only run with a maximum of 5% of invalid signatures. Deputy head of the Commission Nikolai Bulayev stated that with this type of issue he suspected, “to some extent, the candidate is directly involved.”

The Kremlin has in the past allowed “spoiler candidates” to run and be overwhelmingly defeated in order to promote Putin’s strength.

Ruslan Shaveddinov, ally of the late Alexei Navalny, stated the “main focus was to campaign against Putin”, and so Nadezhdin was the “vehicle to voice their opposition against the government”. Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of the political analysis firm R.Politik, predicted that his failure is a tactic by Putin to “show the hopelessness of the anti-war agenda”. The Kremlin has in the past allowed “spoiler candidates” to run and be overwhelmingly defeated in order to promote Putin’s strength.

Yet up until his barring, support was significant. There were 300 make-shift campaign offices with lines stretching outside them across 75 regions of Russia to collect the signatures, with seemingly no negative consequences for the citizens who turned out. Channel One, Russia 1, and NTV all reported on the footage of Nadezhdin collecting boxes of signatures, but were quick to point out supposed irregularities on the documents displayed. They did however acknowledge that this didn’t qualify as a rule violation.

In response to his barring by the CEC, Nadezhdin posted a statement on Telegram stating he wouldn’t back down: “I do not agree with the decision of the central election commission… Participating in the presidential election in 2024 is the most important political decision in my life”.

It was always likely, according to critics and supporters alike, that Boris Nadezhdin would never reach the election on 15-17th March. Yet the symbol of his anti-war campaign gaining momentum and support, particularly for under-25s, clearly shows that Russia has not yet completely lost all hope in democracy. The social pushback following the war in Ukraine through supporting Nadezhdin and Duntsova is evident that Russian citizens won’t stay quiet on these issues, no matter what the result next month may be.

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