memri
February 5, 2024 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 568

Who Is Russian Presidential Candidate Boris Nadezhdin? Will He Be Disqualified? If So, What Reaction Will It Cause?

February 5, 2024 | By Dr. Vladislav L. Inozemtsev*
Russia | MEMRI Daily Brief No. 568

When Boris Nadezhdin, a 60-year-old liberal Russian politician, announced that he is  running for Russia's presidency on October 31, 2023, most observers were extremely skeptical about this enterprise. Long ago, Nadezhdin served a single term as a State Duma deputy between 2000 and 2003, and since then he has been known for participating in many regional elections. He is currently a city council member in Dolgoprudny, a small town north of Moscow that is home to the famous Moscow Institute for Physics and Technology. On December 23, two month after his announcement that he would run for president, he joined the tiny "Civic Initiative" liberal po­litical party, which endorsed him the very same day.


Boris Nadezhdin (Source: Vedomosti)

The Sole "Anti-War Candidate"

In their comments, Rus­sian opposition activists, which have been mostly squeezed out of the country, have shown that they believe that Nadezhdin is either a Kremlin "puppet" or so­meone fooled by Sergei Kiriyenko, the deputy chief of the presidential administration whom Nadezhdin has said that he knows quite well. Nadezhdin has also said that he hopes Kiriyenko will not oppose his campaign. For some time, the Central Election Commission (CEC) has allowed a dozen people known for their Kremlin connections, of whom Nadezhdin was just one, to collect signatu­res in support of themselves.

The Russian electoral system allows political parties with factions in the State Duma to endorse candidates without any other requirements. However, those who are not represented in parliament need to collect 100,000 signatures from at least 40 regions with no more than 2,500 in each in support of their candidates,[1] and those who file without backing by any registered party should pre­sent 300,000 signatures.

Nadezhdin started the campaign in late December, 2023 and around 20 days later he had close to 50,000  signatories,[2] but during that time two news influenced the development of his campaign. On the one hand, ano­t­her seemingly independent candidate also opposing the war in Uk­raine, Ekaterina Duntso­va, a former local deputy from Tver Region, was not allow­ed even to collect the citiz­ens' signatures,[3] thus making Nadezhdin the sole "anti-war candidate." On the other hand, several opposition activists, fiercely criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin, had sud­denly endorsed him.

One of the polls, conducted in the end of January, suggested that up to 32 percent of those who gave their signature for Nadezhdin had found out about his effort from Mikhail Katz's Internet resources, while 10 percent – and eight percent of Mr. Navalny's supporters – had learned of candidacy from popular blogger Ekaterina Shulman.[4] Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Lyubov Sobol, among others, called on their followers to support Nadezhdin's campaign, though he responded by saying that he had never asked them for such backing.[5]

Long Queues To Sign Nadezhdin's Lists

After January 20, in many Russian cities, people started to line up to sign Nadezhdin's lists, which Russian emigrants also supported. All of this became a strong point of concern for the Kremlin. In fact, the Internet was flooded with photos of crowds of people waiting to sign Nadezhdin's lists, while the collection points for President Putin remained almost empty for all of Ja­nuary (Putin's campaigners, I should note, claimed they had collected 2.5 million signatures all around the country).[6] As a result, the 100,000  threshold was reached on January 23,[7] and around 200,000  signatories were ready by the January 31 deadline.[8] Nadezhdin submitted 105,000  signatures to the CEC,[9] which should announce its verdict on or before February 9.

It was widely believed that the Kremlin's plan was to allow Nadezhdin to run together with three candidates from the "systemic opposition" (i.e., Communists, Liberal Democrats, and "Novye Lyudy [New People]" party) as well as with two to three outcasts that often assist the Kremlin (like Andrey Bogdanov, "the Grandmaster of the Russian freemasons lodge," who appeared on the ballot list for the Russian presidential elections in 2008 and was disqualified during the 2018 campaign)[10] for getting from one to two percent of the vote, which would show "the real support" for an anti-war candidate in Russia.

Kiriyenko might have believed that Nadezhdin would be unable to collect signatures and would withdraw from the race. Anyway, the plan was almost certainly just to find out how significant the support for a "moderately anti-Putin" candidate may be. Yet, the visible success of Na­dezhdin's campaign forced the Krem­lin to reevaluate its strategy, simply because of the support that has surfaced before the election day.[11]

Rumors about an order from Kiriyenko to the CEC to disqualify Na­dezhdin's bid began to circulate as soon as his campaign gained ground.[12] On January 30-31, both Bogdanov and another puppet candidate, Sergei Baburin, wanted to set an example for Nadezh­din as they delivered boxes supposedly containing signatures in support of them to the CEC before immediately withdrawing their presidential bids and endorsing President Putin.[13]

As of early February, one may say that the crisis that Kiriyenko wanted has become real. The polls these days suggest that Nadezhdin may be supported by around 10 percent of the electorate, which gives him a clear second position in any free and fair elections with the current list of candidates.[14] He has already stated that all the signatures he collected are real and that if he is not allowed to run he will take the case to the Supreme Court. It seems too risky to allow him to continue since his candidacy would mean the anti-war rhetoric would be disseminated officially thro­ugh the major TV channels and other domestic media, which is not what President Putin needs or would allow these days. Therefore, the Kremlin has only one option: to disqualify Nadezhdin by finding many mistakes in his signature lists. It is worth nothing that on the same day that Nadezhdin submitted the signatures to the CEC, rumors about their "poor quality" emerged in the state media.[15]

What Was The Major Reason To Support An Alternative Candidate?

It is possibile that Nadezhdin will be registered as a candidate and then be accused of irregula­rities or even of getting finan­ced from abroad. Yet, such a scenario has never happened after a candidate is already on the official ballot list. There is a bigger chance that the CEC will this week declare more than five percent of Nadezhdin's signatures to be fake or failing to comply with the existing strict standards and will deny his registration. What really matters will be the events that would unfold thereafter.[16]

Since this is the first countrywide election campaign since the start of the war in Ukraine, no one knows for sure what is allowed. One can be severely punished for disseminating "fake news" about the Russian army,[17] i.e., for simply saying something about the war that diverges from state propaganda, but critici­zing the war as such is not officially banned. Nevertheless, there are many cases in which people got arrested just for a slogan "No to war!"[18] Street protests of any kind are extremely risky but to put one's signature in support of an anti-war candidate that was officially allowed by the CEC to collect them is perfectly legal.

Some opposition politicians have warned that giving a signature means submitting one's personal information directly to the authorities.[19] If Nadezhdin is declared an "extremist" in the future like Alexei Navalny once was, his supporters may face criminal prosecution. This is even more true for those who donate to his campaign – those who did so for Navalny are now facing prosecution.[20] Nevertheless, to voice support for Nadezhdin these days in Russia looks like the least risky way of expressing one's disagreement with the authorities.

Here we reach the most intriguing questions: What was the major reason for Russians to support an alternative candidate? Was it their deep dissent against the war and disapproval of President Putin? Of course, there are many brave people in the country who are protesting – the number of political prisoners in Russia is rising – but one would hardly say that there are hundreds of thousands of them. Was it then just the wish to at least do something that seems legal and would have no consequences, while at the same time showing discontent with the direction in which Putin is taking Russia?

The answer to this question may be given quite soon. In 2011, many Russians went to the streets protesting the rigged parliamentary elections. Hence, the reaction of Nadezhdin's supporters to his eventual disqualification will say more about Russian society than any elections authorized by the Kremlin. If some people, at least in major Russian cities, decide to participate in street protests, it might be a sign that the civil society is still alive, but if we will see just a couple of people in front of the Supreme Court bu­ilding – as has often happened in recent months when some activists (both pro-liberal and "patriotic")[21] have been sentenced – it means that Russian civil society simply does not exist.

Needless to say, if Nadezhdin silently accepts the end of his campaign and, for example, endorses the "Novye Lyudi" candidate, Vladislav Davankov, he will prove that his campaign was just a part of Kiriyenko's sophisticated game. However, if Nadezhdin will call on his supporters to protest in the streets, he might become a new leader of the Russian opposition... but just for few days, as he would get arrested and jailed.

Conclusion

I would bet on a "smooth" outcome. Nadezhdin does not seem to be ready for a direct confrontation with the authorities. During his campaign, he masterfully avoided any calls for returning the occupied territories to Ukraine,[22] re­peated calls for negotiations that may lead to the termination of the war, and, in what also looks important, decided not to submit to the CEC any signatures collected abroad to avoid any complaints.[23] Moreover, Nadezhdin seems to be aware that any of his radical moves might turn all his supporters into an "anti-governmental extremist organization" and he hopefully has no intention of putting these people at risk. He instead said that he will call on his supporters to file requests for officially permitted rallies across the country.[24]

However, as "surprising" as Nadezhdin's move to run in the elections may seem, it cannot even slightly change the essence of the Russian "presidential elections of 2024," which remain a purely procedural event aimed at legitimizing the re-appointment of Putin, as happened already in the 2012 and 2018 elections.

In all the previous elections, the Kremlin reduced the number and the credibility of the opposition candidates, so it is quite natural for Putin to "compete" this time only with the appointees of the parliamentary parties, none of whom is even interested in defeating the incumbent president. Interviews in which these candidates decline that they "are better than Putin" and avoid even thinking that they may win the elections can be easily found on the Internet.[25]

The goal of a 70 percent-participation rate with 80 percent of voters supporting Putin was long ago announced[26] and no one wants to correct it. Under such circumstances, Nadezhdin's case looks very much like that of Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin's 2018 attempt, when he got close to 11.8 percent of the national vote being quite critical to Putin and presenting some radical propo­sals for changing the country.

Yet, unlike 2018, this time the Kremlin is much more foresighted, allowing Nadezhdin to start a campaign simply because it knows he might be disqualified at every step of the "electoral process," while Gru­dinin, who was put forward by a parliamentary party, was not removed from the voting list even despite accusations of possessing foreign property and bank accounts.[27]So, the re­sult that Putin awaits will be achieved anyway.

Russia after the 2024 elections will become even more authoritarian country than it was before. As after 2011-2012, President Putin will try to tighten his control over the Russian society because with every political "cycle" he wishes more obedience from his subjects, and this trend seemingly cannot be reversed any time soon. The only question is how big of a resistance these elections could cause...

*Dr. Vladislav Inozemtsev is the MEMRI Russian Media Studies Project Special Advisor, and Founder and Director of the Moscow-based Center for Post-Industrial Studies.

 

[1] Vedomosti.ru/politics/news/2024/01/31/1017673-nadezhdin-sdal-podpisi, January 31, 2024.

[2] Svoboda.org/a/boris-borisj-sotsseti-o-sbore-podpisey-za-borisa-nadezhdina/32785541.html, January 22, 2024.

[3] Forbes.ru/society/503216-cik-ne-dopustil-ekaterinu-duncovu-do-prezidentskih-vyborov-v-rossii, December 26, 2024.

[4] Youtube.com/watch?v=4S0OEyVY6I0

[5] T.me/khodorkovski/8866, January 20, 2024; T.me/TeamSobol/19312, January 21, 2024; Dw.com/ru/boris-nadezdin-a-ne-prosil-u-rossijskoj-oppozicii-ni-deneg-ni-podderzki/a-68066891, January 24, 2024.

[6] Youtube.com/watch?v=z3C1lx4nqHU; Novayagazeta.eu/articles/2024/01/25/zhalobno-i-grustno-news, January 25, 2024; Rg.ru/2024/01/17/v-podderzhku-putina-sobrano-bolee-25-milliona-podpisej.html, January 17, 2024.

[7] Dw.com/ru/boris-nadezdin-sobral-100-tysac-podpisej-za-svoe-vydvizenie/a-68061655, January 23, 2024.

[8] Nadezhdin2024.ru/

[9] Nadezhdin2024.ru/

[10] Imrussia.org/en/politics/283-russias-new-parties-first-results-of-political-reform, August 14, 2012.

[11] Meduza.io/feature/2024/01/26/lyudey-potyanulo-na-novoe-eto-ochen-nepriyatnyy-effekt, January 26, 2024.

[12] Verstka.media/cyk-planiruet-otkazat-borisu-nadezhdinu-v-registracii-na-prezidentskie-vybory, January 11, 2024.

[13] Rtvi.com/news/bogdanov-sdal-podpisi-v-czik-i-snyalsya-s-vyborov-prezidenta/, January 31, 2024; Meduza.io/news/2024/01/30/sergey-baburin-prines-v-tsik-podpisi-za-svoe-vydvizhenie-v-prezidenty-i-tut-zhe-snyal-svoyu-kandidaturu-prizvav-podderzhat-putina, January 30, 2024.

[14] Moscowtimes.ru/2024/01/31/sotsopros-pozakazu-nadezhdina-pokazal-ego-prezidentskii-reiting-10-a120188, January 31, 2024.

[15] Iz.ru/1643108/2024-01-31/podpisi-nadezhdina-na-vybory-prezidenta-vyzvali-voprosy-u-chlenov-tcik, January 31, 2024.

[16] Openmedia.io/news/n3/dopustimyj-brak-dlya-podpisej-kandidatov-snizyat-vdvoe-normu-prinyali-pod-predlogom-perexoda-k-vyboram-onlajn/, May 14, 2020.

[17] Duma.gov.ru/news/58733/

[18] Svoboda.org/a/moskvicha-s-invalidnostjyu-arestovali-za-nadpisj-net-voyne-na-snegu-/32707207.html, November 209, 2024.

[19] T.me/i_ponomarev/13354, January 21, 2024.

[20] Zona.media/article/2022/09/01/donate, September 1, 2022.

[21] Tbc.ru/politics/25/01/2024/65b252329a79478de03bda4f, January 25, 2024.

[22] Forumfreerussia.org/articles/opinions/2024-01-31/andrej-volna-v-voprosah-vojny-i-mira-nadezhdin-ot-putina-ne-otlichaetsya, January 31, 2024.

[23] Meduza.io/news/2024/01/26/boris-nadezhdin-ne-budet-sdavat-v-tsik-podpisi-sobrannye-za-granitsey, January 26, 2024.

[24] Theins.ru/news/268687, January 28, 2024.

[25] Mduza.io/feature/2023/12/25/kandidat-ot-kprf-nikolay-haritonov-idet-na-vybory-on-ne-znaet-chem-on-luchshe-putina, December 25, 2023.

[26] Thebell.io/statisty-i-80-za-putina-chto-izvestno-o-prezidentskikh-vyborakh-za-mesyats-do-obyavleniya-ikh-daty, November 13, 2023; Verstka.media/kak-chinovniki-gotoviatsia-delat-kampaniyu-vladimira-putina-na-vyborah-prezidenta, October 19, 2023; Thebell.io/statisty-i-80-za-putina-chto-izvestno-o-prezidentskikh-vyborakh-za-mesyats-do-obyavleniya-ikh-daty, November 13, 2023.

[27] Ria.ru/20180306/1515818215.html, March 6, 2018.

Share this Report:

Help Fight Extremism - Support MEMRI

MEMRI is a 501(c)3 organization. All donations are tax-deductible and kept strictly confidential.