Vladimir the fifth

However, much of the attention has centered on Boris Nadezhdin, a candidate the CEC declined to register, representing the Civic Initiative party. His emergence onto the pre-electoral scene briefly suggested a genuine opportunity for Russian voters to voice their discontent with the country’s current state. Nadezhdin, a relatively obscure figure, quickly gained attention, seen as a symbol of potential change by many Russians, particularly those disenchanted with the status quo. His name became widely discussed, especially in Western media, reflecting the readiness of some to support any alternative to Putin.

A Unifying Figure

Nadezhdin’s notable achievement has been his ability to unite much of the “non-systemic” opposition behind his candidacy, transcending internal divisions that have plagued liberal-democratic forces since the 1990s. While some may question the clarity of his message, which revolves around four main themes – increased political freedoms, release of political prisoners, Russia’s reintegration into the global community, and resolution of the conflict in Ukraine – the later point being part of other candidates plateforms. Despite lacking specifics on negotiation conditions and the future of occupied territories like Crimea, Nadezhdin speaks of ‘war’ and not a ‘special operation’ and his candidacy has resonated enough for people to queue openly in front of the registration offices, producing their passports, and to form grassroots movements through the Federation.

Following initial hesitations, opposition leaders rallied behind Nadezhdin, a remarkable development considering the historically fragmented nature of Russian opposition politics. From Alexei Navalny to Grigori Yavlinsky and exiled Mikhail Khodorkovsky, all endorsed Nadezhdin as a viable alternative to Putin, urging volunteers to establish support networks across the country. Nadezhdin’s appeal is further bolstered by his lack of previous electoral defeats and his genuine sincerity, exemplified in his assertion that, at 60, he is immune to threats against his career or even life. Should he not be elected, he would happily enjoy the life of an ordinary pensioner.

Challenges to the Kremlin

Nadezhdin’s candidacy poses an unprecedented challenge to the entrenched Kremlin administration, which has maintained power for two decades with minimal turnover. While allowing Nadezhdin to potentially siphon off a portion of votes might have been manageable through ‘administrative means’, in a controlled system where the victor claims absolute power and the losers sink into non-entities, the Kremlin opted for a more aggressive approach. The CEC’s rejection of Nadezhdin’s registration, citing insufficient signatures due to alleged fraud, underscores the authorities’ apprehension towards his campaign. Despite Nadezhdin’s team anticipating the accusation by providing more signatures than required by electoral law, the Kremlin remained resolute.

The Kremlin’s concern appears less about Nadezhdin’s electoral impact, which might or not dilute Putin’s victory, and much more about his ability to campaign, using all the means of communication provided by the electoral law, to articulate the pervasive sentiments of fear and anger among ordinary Russians who often disregarded traditional “elitist” liberal democrats. Nadezhdin’s characterisation of the war in Ukraine as a “fatal mistake” and Putin as a man who “sees the world from the past” when “Russia needs a future” might have been a step too far. However, his decision to appeal to the Supreme Court against the CEC’s decision ensures that he remains a thorn in the Kremlin’s side as long as the Court did not publish its decision.

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