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Vladimir Putin Faces Opposition as Russian Public Backs New Presidential Hopeful

Russia has seen an unusual display of public defiance as thousands of citizens have stood in long lines nationwide to sign petitions supporting an unlikely challenger to President Vladimir Putin.

The Challenger: Boris Nadezhdin

Credit: Boris Nadezhdin, the Civic Initiative party presidential hopeful. Olga Maltseva / AFP

Boris Nadezhdin, a 60-year-old local legislator and academic, has put the Kremlin in a dilemma as he strives to run in the upcoming March 17 presidential election.

The question is whether Russian authorities will permit him to be a candidate.

Nadezhdin’s Unconventional Campaign

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Boris Nadezhdin, whose name means “hope” in Russian, though highly unlikely to defeat Putin, has resonated with the public by openly advocating for an end to the conflict in Ukraine, ceasing the conscription of Russian men for military service, initiating a dialogue with Western nations, and criticizing Russia’s suppression of LGBTQ+ activism.

Excellent Response

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Speaking to The Associated Press, Nadezhdin stated, “The collection of signatures has gone unexpectedly well for us. We didn’t expect this, to be honest.”

His campaign represents a rare sign of protest and optimism in a country that has witnessed a severe crackdown on dissent since its military intervention in Ukraine nearly two years ago.

The Hurdles Nadezhdin Must Overcome

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Nadezhdin is running as a candidate for the Civic Initiative Party, which is not represented in parliament.

Consequently, he must gather over 100,000 signatures, with a maximum limit of 2,500 from Russia’s numerous regions, including areas beyond the larger, more progressive cities.

3 Million Signatures For Putin

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In contrast, Putin, running as an independent candidate rather than the United Russia ruling party candidate, has already collected over 3 million signatures.

Support for Nadezhdin Across the Nation

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Nadezhdin’s campaign has garnered remarkable support, with citizens queuing up to sign petitions not only in Moscow and St. Petersburg but also in various regions such as Krasnodar in the south, Saratov and Voronezh in the southwest, and even as far as Yakutsk in the Far East, despite sub-zero temperatures.

Motivations Behind Nadezhdin’s Backing

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Supporters cite various reasons for backing Nadezhdin. Some, like Alexander Rakityansky from the border city of Belgorod, believe that supporting Nadezhdin could help prevent further conflict in regions like his.
Others view him as a genuine alternative to Putin, whom they blame for economic difficulties and rising prices.

International Support for Nadezhdin

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Opposition leaders abroad, including former tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and backers of imprisoned opposition politician Alexei Navalny, have encouraged Russians to support any candidate who can challenge Putin’s share of the vote.

Exiled opposition activist Maxim Katz asserted that Nadezhdin’s candidacy demonstrates that “conversations about civic apathy in Russia are very far from reality.”

Kremlin’s Response

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Analysts suggest that Nadezhdin’s surge of support may have caught the Kremlin off guard. However, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated that they do not see Nadezhdin as a rival.

Importance of the Election for Putin

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While Putin’s victory is widely expected, political experts believe the election remains a moment of genuine political risk for the Kremlin.

Putin needs his supporters to turn out, and critics must stay home to ensure a convincing win.

The Shadow of Hope

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Nadezhdin’s candidacy represents a glimmer of hope for some Russians who desire a different leader from Putin, who has been in power for 24 years.

Other Candidates in the Race

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Russia’s Central Election Commission has approved three candidates nominated by parties in parliament, all of whom largely support Kremlin policies.

These candidates include Nikolai Kharitonov of the Communist Party, Leonid Slutsky of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, and Vladislav Davankov of the New People Party.

The Challenge of Unpredictability

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Notably, Yekatarina Duntsova, who advocated for peace in Ukraine, was barred from the ballot due to technical errors in her paperwork.

Some suggest that unpredictability is not favored by Russian authorities.

Nadezhdin’s Visibility and Potential Kremlin Calculations

Credit: Boris Nadezhdin, the Civic Initiative party presidential hopeful. Olga Maltseva / AFP

Nadezhdin’s relatively high visibility on Russian television, including a September 2022 appearance in which he criticized the Ukraine conflict, has led to speculation about Kremlin approval.

He believes he was allowed to run because he did not specifically criticize Putin.

Dangerous Gamble

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However, political scientists like Ekaterina Schulmann consider this a “dangerous gamble” for the authorities.
They suggest that Nadezhdin could be disqualified later, potentially through the invalidation of signatures, or face threats if he urges his supporters to protest.

Election Dynamics and Online Voting

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This election is the first since Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territories, and it will also feature nationwide online voting.

Critics have raised concerns about potential manipulation to favor Putin, a charge the Kremlin has denied.

A Glimpse into Russia’s Present

Irrespective of the outcome, the sight of citizens lining up to support Nadezhdin offers a revealing snapshot of Russia’s current state, reflecting a desire for political change and a sense of hope.

For the Kremlin, it presents an unexpected challenge in an election presumed to be a foregone conclusion.

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