Russian war critic Boris Nadezhdin is an odd challenge for Putin

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Boris Nadezhdin, presidential hopeful of the Civic Initiative Party, arrives at the Central Election Commission to submit signatures collected in support of his candidacy, in Moscow on January 31, 2024.

Vera Savina | Afp | Getty Images

During President Vladimir Putin’s 24 years in power, systemic opposition in Russia has been suppressed by political opponents of the Kremlin in prison or in self-imposed exile or, in some cases conditions, even dead.

But a challenger to Putin’s long reign in office has emerged from an unlikely place – within Russia’s existing political establishment – in the form of Boris Nadezhdin.

Standing on a platform for peace with Ukraine, friendly and cooperative global relations and fair elections, as well as a fairer civil society and a smaller state, Nadezhdin submitted his bid to run for the presidency -sit Wednesday.

The Kremlin has tried to eliminate Nadezhdin’s ability to make an election win for Putin seen as a done deal. Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov told CNBC on Thursday that “we are not inclined to exaggerate the level of support for Mr. Nadezhdin. “

Nevertheless, the fact that Nadezhdin is even trying to stand for election on an anti-war platform – and has gathered a certain level of public support – shows that the public’s will there for his views, and that is likely to make the Kremlin nervous after him. he staked her political legacy and future on victory in Ukraine.

Boris Nadezhdin, a representative of the Civic Initiative political party that plans to run for president of Russia in the March 2024 election, speaks to journalists at the office of the Central Election Commission in Moscow, Russia on 26 December, 2023.

Maxim Shemetov | Reuters

Russian political analysts point out that Nadezhdin, 60, is not a political outsider or novice but part of Russia’s political establishment – a former lawmaker who had been a member of political parties that supported Putin’s leadership at the beginning of his two-decade political career. ago.

The Russian political leadership and domestic policy makers seem to have accepted the recent attempt at frontal politics, and the attempt to run for the presidential election, despite what some – an anti-Kremlin campaign, with Nadezhdin previously seen as a member of the opposition system. that gives a sense of political pluralism and legitimacy to Russia’s largely independent leadership.

However, Nadezhdin’s recent rise in popularity and prominence has changed that, political analysts say, and he is now a challenge and a dilemma for the Kremlin as the election approaches.

“He’s always been anti-war and critical but he played by the rules and respected the rules, so he didn’t worry [challenge the political status quo]it was absolutely part of the systemic challenge…

“[As soon as] he thought there were thousands of people behind him or even hundreds of thousands, he decided to play another game,” said Stanovaya, a senior fellow at Russia’s Carnegie Eurasia Center and founder of the R.Politik analytical firm .

“And he is not happy with the management of domestic policy at all. For them, this is a situation, this is a headache and a problem. Nadezhdin is now a challenge,” she said.

Skating on thin ice?

Nadezhdin is a famous face in Russia. A former State Duma lawmaker, he has made a name for himself on popular TV talk shows where he has become famous for his critical views on Russia’s war against Ukraine, or the Moscow calls it a “special military operation.” However, analysts are aware that he has been careful to stay within recent legislation that has made “disrespecting” the armed forces a jailable offence.

Nadezhdin is popular among sections of the Russian public and late last year he was nominated to stand in the election by the centrist Civic Initiative party.

People wait to sign for the presidential bid of the anti-war candidate Boris Nadezhdin. It is considered impossible that Nadezhdin could win the upcoming presidential election in Russia. However, the war opponent’s claim has met with unexpected approval from many Russians.

Photography Federation | Photography Federation | Getty Images

Founded just over 10 years ago, the party says in its manifesto that “its aim is for the state to be a servant of man, not a master” and says that it is for the freedom of to restore half in Russia, such as freedom of speech and the right to protest. , and to revive relations with the West. Nadezhdin has said in interviews that he would end the war with Ukraine, describing on the war as a “fatal mistake.”

These are brave words in Russia, and Nadezhdin himself has said that he is not sure why he has not been arrested yet for his views.

Many of his supporters have queued in freezing temperatures to add their support and, crucially, their signatures to support his bid to stand in the March 15-17 election.

Candidates representing political parties in Russia must collect at least 100,000 signatures from at least 40 regions in Russia in order to be considered as an election candidate. Putin, who was running as an independent (and needed at least 300,000 signatures), reportedly collected more than 3.5 million signatures.

Surrounded by his supporters and a gaggle of media as he delivered his application to the Central Electoral Commission this week, Nadezhdin said 105,000 signatures had been submitted although some were collected more than 200,000, his campaign website says. His campaign decided not to submit signatures collected from Russian citizens abroad, fearing that they would be rejected.

The Central Election Commission, which oversees election processes in Russia, will now review the eligibility of these signatures. With the recent support for Nadezhdin, that could be uncomfortable for the Kremlin, and there are concerns that the electoral authorities could find fault with a large number of these signatures. , meaning that a technicality – real or otherwise – could see him banned from running in the election.

Stanovaya said it was a similar situation, saying “it is very difficult for me to think that Nadezhdin will be allowed to run in the election, it would be completely strange.” the CEC part of the signatures that Nadezhdin has collected.

CNBC could not reach the CEC for comment.

Boris Nadezhdin, candidate of the Civic Initiative party for the 2024 Russian presidential election, brings 105,000 signatures to the polling station in Moscow, Russia on January 31, 2024.

Boris Nadezhdin/Leaflet/Anadolu News Service via Getty Images

András Tóth-Czifra, another fellow in the Eurasia Program at the Institute for Foreign Policy Studies, told CNBC that the Kremlin must now weigh the risks of putting Nadezhdin’s name on the ballot paper, and the potential for perform better than expected in the vote, or reject his bid before serious damage to his reputation – even if you knew that stopping Nadezhdin from standing could also provoke discontent.

“Many have speculated, and I think this is true, that the original idea was to allow him to stand as a candidate and gather signatures, and convey the anti-war message of his campaign , to show little support for this position. Russia today,” said Tóth-Czifra.

“Now … the question is how dangerous the Kremlin’s political technicians think it is to let this go further and allow Nadezhdin to be on the ballot,” he told CNBC on Thursday.

“I am quite sure that the Kremlin will be weighing these risks over the course of the week while the Central Election Commission is verifying signatures… There are arguments for allowing Naezhdin to run and there are arguments there to take it off the ballot paper. There are risks associated with it. allowing it to run and there are risks associated with taking it off the ballot,” said Tóth-Czifra.

“I believe, from what we’ve seen so far, the Kremlin probably thinks the risks associated with taking him off the ballot are lower than the risks associated with letting him run ,” he said, especially since the Kremlin’s threat level tends to be heightened in times of war.

“I’m pretty sure there are already people in the Kremlin who think it’s already gone too far,” Tóth-Czifra said.

Even if Nadezhdin is allowed to stand, there is no doubt that he can win the election in a country where Putin’s approval ratings are still very high and the pro-Putin media is dominated, and where political opponents are subjected to widespread smear campaigns.

Kremlin Press Secretary Peskov told CNBC last fall that “Russian society is consolidated around the president” and that the Kremlin was confident Putin would win another term in office.

Stanovaya said Nadezhdin is now in danger of falling out with the Russian authorities, having openly challenged the long-standing leadership.

“He’s taking a lot of risks now, and I’m pretty sure that the Kremlin’s domestic policy leaders, who know Nadezhdin very well, are now thinking about how to deal with this and how to they will tell Nadezhdin to stop and he is actually rowing back, otherwise he will have problems.”

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