Boris Nadezhdin, a former liberal politician turned prominent critic of Putin’s war in Ukraine, has officially submitted his bid to run in Russia’s 2024 presidential election. Nadezhdin announced he gathered the necessary 100,000 signatures to get on the ballot and challenge longtime incumbent Vladimir Putin. His candidacy marks a stunning turn of events and poses the first significant political threat to Putin in years.
Nadezhdin Presents Signatures to Election Commission as Surprise Anti-War Candidate
On January 31st, Nadezhdin visited Russia’s Central Election Commission office and presented boxes filled with 170,000 signatures to qualify for the presidential ballot.
“I have the signatures, almost 170,000 rather than the required 100,000,” Nadezhdin told reporters. “So I have the right to be a candidate.”
Nadezhdin’s last-minute entry into the race shocked Russian political observers. Once a member of the opposition Russia’s Choice and Yabloko parties in the 1990s, Nadezhdin later won election as a member of United Russia – Putin’s ruling party – and worked within the system.
But after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Nadezhdin experienced a remarkable transformation, openly criticizing the war and Putin’s handling of it. He began appearing on talk shows and giving interviews slamming the rationale for the invasion.
His outspokenness got him kicked out of Putin’s party, but it also built his profile nationwide as a credible opposition figure. A recent poll found 20% of Russians would vote for him, an unheard level of support for an anti-war candidate.
|Submitted presidential election bid
|January 31, 2024
|Russia’s Central Election Commission
|Wants to challenge Putin over the war in Ukraine
Many expect the Kremlin will attempt to invalidate some of Nadezhdin’s signatures to prevent him from appearing on the ballot. But Nadezhdin seemed undeterred.
“If they don’t register me, that will be the last nail in the coffin of the legitimacy of elections in Russia,” he said.
Can a Genuine Opposition Figure Run Against Putin?
Nadezhdin’s announcement has raised expectations that Russians may finally have a real alternative candidate to challenge Putin’s dominance of political life after 20+ years in power.
But the consensus among experts is the deck remains heavily stacked against any opposition figure. The Kremlin maintains tight control over media narratives and has crushed or marginalized past opposition movements. Rival candidates have ended up imprisoned or even dead under suspicious circumstances.
“They will set up filters to prevent him from getting registered,” Abbas Gallyamov, an independent political analyst and former speechwriter for Putin, predicted to Al-Jazeera.
Analysts like Gallyamov believe the authorities will stop Nadezhdin if they feel he poses a legitimate threat. The only question is whether they do it transparently by simply barring him for technical reasons or resort to more heavy-handed methods seen in the past, like criminal prosecution.
“The Russian regime has a wide arsenal of tools for getting rid of those whom they see as serious opponents,” said Tatyana Stanovaya, founder of the political analysis firm R.Politik.
According to Stanovaya, “He’ll either be killed or put in prison” if his candidacy gains steam as election day nears.
The election is still 11 months away on March 19, 2024. That leaves plenty of time for the authorities to act if Nadezhdin emerges as an actual electoral threat.
|What Could Stop Nadezhdin
“From experience we know that the Russian authorities can easily exclude an undesirable candidate from the election race at any stage under the guise of violating the law,” independent political scientist Ekaterina Schulmann told Meduza.
Surge in Support for Anti-War Position After Failed Ukraine Invasion
Nadezhdin’s sudden rise reflects shifting public attitudes nearly a year into Putin’s disastrous war in Ukraine.
What the Kremlin anticipated as a quick victory has stalled into a bloody quagmire with Russia struggling to make gains and suffering horrendous losses. Combat deaths are estimated as high as 200,000 Russians killed and tens of thousands more wounded.
The conflict’s expanding unpopularity has opened space for criticism that didn’t exist before. Nadezhdin went from fringe figure to presidential contender by tapping into public war weariness.
“I speak about things many people think but few talk about aloud,” Nadezhdin told The Moscow Times in an interview. “People are fed up with what’s happening.”
|Shifting Russian Attitudes
|Over 75% supported the invasion in Spring 2022
|Now 60% favor peace talks
|Putin’s approval rating over 80%
|Fallen below 30% in recent polls
|Speaking out against the war taboo
|Public criticism on the rise
Sources say even members of Russia’s elite have grown discontented with the course of the war and the economic damage from Western sanctions.
If these trends accelerate, some analysts believe the chances of Nadezhdin being allowed to compete against Putin increase. The Kremlin could see letting him run as a release valve for public frustrations while still rigging the ultimate outcome.
“It is not impossible that Nadezhdin will be registered, simply because the tension in society has reached such a critical point that letting steam out of this pressure cooker has become urgent for the authorities,” Abbas Gallyamov argued to The Guardian.
Allowing Nadezhdin on the ballot would enable Putin to claim democratic legitimacy and mask the stage-managed nature of Russian elections. But experts say the authorities will first assess whether Nadezhdin has a realistic chance of unseating Putin before making such a risky move.
What Comes Next for Nadezhdin with Long Road Ahead
In the coming weeks and months, Nadezhdin must navigate major obstacles at every turn to remain a presidential candidate.
Assuming election officials accept his signatures, the next challenge will be actually campaigning around the country to build support. The Kremlin tightly manages which candidates receive media access and coverage.
Nadezhdin also risks political repression, arrest, or physical harm. Russian opposition figures have frequently become targets of hacks, smear attacks, and surprise police raids meant to undermine their electoral efforts.
“He will face enormous problems campaigning around Russia’s regions,” Gallyamov predicted. “The Kremlin will block him from renting venues for rallies, and pro-government thugs might attack him and his campaign staff.”
While the odds remain long, some experts say Nadezhdin represents the first candidate with a plausible chance to defeat Putin due to his unique profile and message.
If Nadezhdin makes it to election day next March, the biggest uncertainty becomes whether the Kremlin allows a free and fair vote. Putin has never failed to win re-election, but neither has he confronted an opponent tapping into such widespread anti-war sentiment among Russians.
|Nadezhdin’s Path Forward
|Survive 11 months without arrest or harassment
|Campaign across Russia’s vast geography
|Counter Kremlin media blackouts
|Overcome systemic electoral fraud
|Convert war weariness into votes
|Prevail in rigged election environment
“They understand very well that today there are people who are ready to vote for someone who would end the war,” Nadezhdin said. “Therefore they will create colossal problems for me.”
Many experts argue that for Putin, keeping his grip on power remains more important than any policy issue, even ending the increasingly unpopular conflict with Ukraine.
If forced to choose, Putin will preserve his own rule before abandoning a war effort that has come to define his late leadership. But the mere possibility of him facing a forceful anti-war challenger would have seemed implausible just months ago.
Nadezhdin’s ability to compel the authorities to either allow his candidacy or transparently block it itself signals a new phase of the political landscape. For Putin’s inner circle, it represents the first visible crack in the facade of total control since Putin came to power at the turn of the century.
The next year might determine whether that crack becomes a full-on breach.
To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.