The Russian war critic poses a strange challenge to Putin and the Kremlin as elections approach

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

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Over the twenty-four years that President Vladimir Putin has been in power, the systemic opposition has been decimated in Russia, with political opponents of the Kremlin imprisoned or in self-imposed exile, or in some circumstances, the systemic opposition has been eliminated. Even dead.

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

Standing on a platform of peace with Ukraine, friendly and cooperative global relations and fair elections, as well as a fairer civil society and a smaller nation, Nadezhdin made his bid for the presidency on Wednesday.

The Kremlin sought to rule out the possibility of Nadezhdin causing disruption in the elections, in which Putin’s victory is considered a done deal. “We are not inclined to exaggerate the level of support for Mr. Nadezhdin,” Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov told CNBC Thursday.

However, the fact that Nadezhdin is even trying to run for election on an anti-war platform – and has received some level of public support – shows that there is a public appetite for his views, and that is likely to alarm the Kremlin after he has beaten him. She staked her political legacy and future on achieving victory in Ukraine.

Russian political analysts point out that Nadezhdin, 60, is not a political outsider or upstart, but part of the Russian political establishment — a former lawmaker who was a member of political parties that supported Putin’s leadership at the beginning of his two-decade political career. since.

His latest foray into front-line politics, and his attempt to run for president, appears to have been tolerated by Russia’s political leadership and domestic policymakers. Despite the doubts of some pro-Kremlin activistsNadezhdin was previously seen as a member of the opposition regime that lends a veil of political pluralism and legitimacy to Russia’s largely authoritarian leadership.

However, Nadezhdin’s recent growing popularity and prominence has changed that, political analysts say, and he now poses a challenge and dilemma for the Kremlin as elections approach.

“He was always anti-war and critical, but he played by the rules and respected them, so he didn’t dare [challenge the political status quo]”He was definitely part of the systemic opposition…but he decided to go further,” Russian political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya told CNBC on Thursday.

“[As soon as] “He thought thousands of people or even hundreds of thousands were behind him, so he decided to play another game,” said Stanovaya, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center and founder of the analysis firm RPolitik.

She added: “This does not satisfy observers of domestic politics at all. For them, this is just a measure, and this is a headache and a problem. Nadezhdin has now become a challenge.”

Skating on thin ice?

Nadezhdin is a well-known face in Russia. A former Duma deputy, he made a name for himself on popular television chat shows in which he became known for his critical views of Russia’s war against Ukraine, or what Moscow calls the “special military operation.” However, analysts point out that he was keen to comply with recent legislation that made “defaming” the armed forces a criminal offense that can lead to imprisonment.

Nadezhdin gained great popularity among sectors of the Russian public, and late last year he was nominated to run in the elections by the center-right Civic Initiative Party.

Founded just over 10 years ago, the party states in its manifesto that “its goal is for the state to be man’s servant, not his master,” and says it wants to restore individual freedoms in Russia, such as freedom of expression and the right to protest. Reviving relations with the West. Nadezhdin had said in press interviews that he would end the war with Ukraine, describing the war as a war “Fatal error.”

These are brave words in Russia, and Nadezhdin himself said them He’s not sure why he hasn’t been arrested yet for his views.

Many of his supporters lined up in freezing temperatures to add their support and, more importantly, their signatures to support his bid to run in the elections scheduled for March 15-17.

Candidates representing political parties in Russia must collect at least 100,000 signatures from at least 40 regions of Russia in order to be considered candidates for election. Putin, running as an independent (requiring at least 300,000 signatures), It reportedly collected more than 3.5 million signatures.

People line up to sign the presidential nomination for anti-war candidate Boris Nadezhdin. It is considered impossible for Nadezhdin to win the upcoming presidential elections in Russia. However, the candidacy of the war opponent was met with unexpected approval by many Russians.

Image Alliance | Image Alliance | Getty Images

Surrounded by supporters and a group of journalists as he presented his bid before the Central Election Commission this week, Nadezhdin said 105,000 signatures had been submitted despite just over 200,000 signatures being collected. His campaign website states that. His campaign decided not to submit signatures collected from Russian citizens abroad, for fear that they would be rejected.

The Central Election Commission, which oversees electoral processes in Russia, will review the eligibility of those signatures. Given the recent show of support for Nadezhdin, this could be uncomfortable for the Kremlin, and there are fears that electoral authorities could find an error in a large number of those signatures, meaning that a technical reason – whether real or otherwise – could lead to him being banned from participating in the election. The election. Run in elections.

Stanovaya said this was a likely scenario, saying: “It is really hard for me to imagine Nadezhdin allowing us to run in the elections, it would be completely strange.” Stanovaya believes that it is possible that the Central Election Commission will not recognize part of the signatures obtained by Nadezhdin.

CNBC was unable to reach the Central Election Commission for a response to comment.

Andras Toth-Czevra, a fellow with the Eurasia Program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told CNBC that the Kremlin must now weigh the risks of leaving Nadezhdin’s name on the ballet sheet, and the possibility that he might perform better than expected in 2018. Vote, or reject his nomination before anything happens. Real damage to his reputation – even knowing that barring Nadezhdin from running could also spark discontent.

“Many have speculated, and I think this is true, that the original idea of ​​allowing him to run and collect signatures, and to express a moderate anti-war message in his campaign, was to show how little support this position had in Russia Today,” Toth Chevra said.

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

Boris Nadezhdin Press Service/Bulletin/Anadolu via Getty Images

“The question now is how serious it is that political technologists in the Kremlin consider allowing this to go ahead and allowing Nadezhdin to participate in the ballot,” he told CNBC on Thursday.

He added, “I am sure that the Kremlin will study these risks during the week while the Central Electoral Commission verifies the signatures… There are arguments for allowing Naazdin to run and there are arguments for removing him from the ballot paper. There are risks associated.” “Allowing him to run and there are risks associated with removing him from the ballot,” Toth Chifra said.

“I think, from what we’ve seen so far, the Kremlin probably believes that the risks associated with withdrawing him from the ballot are lower than the risks associated with allowing him to run,” he added, especially since the Kremlin’s perception of risk is and is likely to rise in wartime.

“I’m sure there are already people in the Kremlin who think he has already gone too far,” Toth-Czevra said.

Even if Nadezhdin is allowed to run, there are no illusions that he can win elections in a country where Putin’s approval ratings remain remarkably high, where pro-Putin media dominate, and where political opponents are subject to widespread smear campaigns.

Kremlin press secretary Peskov told CNBC last fall that “Russian society is united around the president” and that the Kremlin is confident Putin will win another term in office.

Stanovaya said Nadezhdin risks falling foul of Russian authorities now that he has publicly challenged their long-standing leadership.

He added: “He is taking a lot of risks now, and I am sure that those overseeing internal policy in the Kremlin, who know Nadezhdin well, are now thinking about how to deal with this matter and how to send a signal to Nadezhdin that he should either stop and leave.” “He’s really paddling backwards, otherwise he’ll get into trouble.”

This article originally appeared on www.cnbc.com

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