On February 8, the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation refused to register Boris Nadezhdin as a candidate for the post of the country's president due to the "forgery" of some of the collected signatures. His participation in the elections could be used to simulate a fair victory for Putin, improve his image in democratic states and avoid further international isolation. However, the refusal to register Nadezhdin, whom Western media have already called an "anti-war" candidate, is also designed to create a false impression that elections in Russia are held in accordance with laws and international norms.
A dummy candidate that helps Putin legitimize the election
Russian "presidential election" is scheduled for March 15–17, 2024. Russian authorities plan to hold a "vote" in the occupied territories of Ukraine and give "voting rights" to Ukrainian citizens (residents of the temporarily occupied territories who refused to obtain Russian passports). Since this "election" doesn’t meet international standards, and the democratic countries most probably won’t recognize its results, the Kremlin invented a new method of increasing the legitimacy of "expression of the will of the people"—imitating the competition between candidates.
Little-known politician Boris Nadezhdin was selected as Putin’s "rival." He collected 100,000 signatures (obviously, after getting the go-ahead from the Kremlin), which are necessary for registration as a presidential candidate.
Boris Nadezhdin entered Russian politics quite a long time ago. In 1990, he became a local council deputy. In 1999, he was nominated by "The Union of Right Forces" party and won a seat in the State Duma. At that time, the parliamentary faction of this party was headed by Sergey Kiriyenko, who currently holds the position of first deputy chief of the Presidential Administration and oversees the integration of the occupied Ukrainian territories into Russia. In 1998, Nadezhdin also worked as Kiriyenko's personal assistant when the latter was the prime minister of Russia.
In the words of Boris Nadezhdin, before being elected to the State Duma, he cooperated with the Administration of Russian President Boris Yeltsin and co-authored a bill "On the procedure for admission to the Russian Federation of a new federal subject." This legislative act created a mechanism for Belarus’s potential accession to Russia—this issue was actively discussed in political circles at the time, just like today. Therefore, not only does the "opposition" candidate share imperialist views and ideas, but he also has been actively working to implement these ideas.
In 2011, Boris Nadezhdin became a member of the "Right Cause" party, which was established by billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov. Prokhorov played the role of an "independent candidate" in the 2012 election and came third in the presidential race. During a recent interview, Nadezhdin said that this party "was formed on the instruction of the Presidential Administration." In 2012, Nadezhdin worked as an election observer for Vladimir Putin. In 2015, he participated in the primaries of the "United Russia" party. Later on, Nadezhdin explained that he took part in primaries just for the sake of "trolling," and he "managed to reach an agreement that allowed him to take second place."
Boris Nadezhdin was nominated for the presidency by the "Civic Initiative" party. In 2018, that same party proposed Ksenia Sobchak as a presidential candidate—her candidacy was also agreed upon with the Russian officials, who allowed her to run in the election with the aim of increasing voter turnout. During an interview with "The New York Times," conducted after the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Sobchak urged Russians "not to yield to calls for protests coming from the West" because "resistance to Putin’s regime currently makes no sense."
Nadezhdin admitted that the Russian government traditionally selects "convenient" rivals for participation in elections because Putin attaches great importance to creating the appearance of legitimacy of political processes and ensuring formal observance of the procedures. In particular, Nadezhdin claimed that the participation of Alexei Navalny in the 2013 mayoral election was agreed upon with the Kremlin. 5 years ago, Nadezhdin said he would take part in the 2024 presidential campaign, although he believes that the elections in Russia "are a bit crooked and frail, there is no real competition, it’s all about backstage deals."
In 2015, it was Nadezhdin who ran as a dummy candidate for governor of Moscow oblast and acted as a "convenient" opponent in political talk shows. At that time, he said: "I understand how they (the Russian authorities) benefit from demonstrating people like me – the so-called ‘fifth column,’ they use me to their advantage, and I use them to maintain a presence in my niche. I’m not urging anyone to get rid of Putin or organize a ‘color revolution’ in Russia at any cost".
However, nowadays, Nadezhdin claims that he is "no longer" a dummy candidate.
The fact that none of the registered candidates demonstrate their political ambitions is indicative of an imitation of the political struggle in Russian elections. For example, the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, Leonid Slutskiy, expressed he doesn’t plan to win the election, while Vladislav Davankov ("New People" party) and Nikolay Kharitonov (The Communist Party of Russia) said that they will refrain from criticizing Putin and his decisions during the election campaign.
At the same time, Russia’s Central Election Commission refused to register Yekaterina Duntsova, who promoted herself as an opposition and "anti-war" candidate. With Nadezhdin, the intrigue was kept until the last moment. Probably, the Kremlin evaluated all the pros and cons of the candidate who, despite his dubious opposition and "anti-military" nature, could appeal to Russians as a certain alternative to the Russian regime.
Why the Russian opposition figures tend to see Nadezhdin through rose-colored glasses and support him
For many Russians, the collection of signatures campaign in favor of Nadezhdin became a fast and relatively painless way of expressing their "anti-war" position. A number of Russian "liberals" (the so-called "good Russians") living in Russia and abroad voiced their support for his candidacy.
For example, Mikhail Khodorkovsky (Russian billionaire and former political prisoner who was forced to immigrate from Russia) called on the Russians to vote for Nadezhdin "even if he can’t win" in the same way that he urged them to vote for Navalny in 2013. Navalny’s associates Georgy Alburov, Lyubov Sobol, Maxim Katz, as well as the above-mentioned Yekaterina Duntsova, also expressed their support for Nadezhdin.
Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (ACF) is not directly involved in pre-election campaigning for Nadezhdin but calls on the Russians to go to the polling stations (thereby increasing the turnout of voters and the legitimacy of the election process) and vote for "any candidate other than Putin." "Presidential election will be rigged, but our task is to make it clear to everyone that Russia no longer needs Putin," the ACF representatives said.
Neither the ACF nor the opposition politicians called on the Russians to boycott this illegal election. It is to be recalled that the results of the 2020 "referendum" provided a basis for zeroing out Putin’s presidential term limits, which allows him to stay in power until 2036. Moreover, Russia’s Central Election Commission adopted a decision to conduct the "presidential election" in the occupied territories of Ukraine and gave Ukrainian citizens the right to "vote." This fact casts doubt upon the legitimacy of the 2024 presidential election.
When asked about the potential disqualification from the presidential race, Nadezhdin spoke against the idea of boycotting the election and underscored that every Russian citizen should come to the poll. Moreover, in December 2023, he made the following statement: "The current regime in Russia is not a monarchy and certainly not a dictatorship. Russia has a real democracy, it is crooked and flawed, but it does exist".
Back in 2018, when the OSCE said that the Russian presidential election lacked real competition, while the EU and G7 countries didn’t recognize the legality and legitimacy of the election process in Crimea, Russian "liberals" called on the Russians to come to the polls and vote for Ksenia Sobchak, which would be equivalent to voting for "none of the above." In 2023, "liberals" urged the Russians to vote for Boris Nadezhdin in an act of expressing their "anti-war position."
The logic of the actions of the Russian opposition seems a bit strange. Instead of boycotting the illegal elections, Russian "liberals" help preserve the authoritarian regime that kills (Anna Politkovskaya, Boris Nemtsov), imprisons (Alexei Navalny, Ilya Yashin, Vladimir Kara-Murza) and forces hundreds of Russian oppositionists to flee the country. In doing so, these politicians give the green light for continuing the military aggression against Ukraine.
Nadezhdin is not an anti-war candidate
In his pre-election campaign, Boris Nadezhdin cultivated a public image as an "anti-war" politician. Reputable Western media inadvertently helped him to accomplish this task. For example, a number of U.S. media outlets (CNN, NYT, AP), as well as British BBC and French Le Monde, presented the collection of signatures campaign in favor of Nadezhdin as evidence of widespread support for his "anti-war" program among Russia’s population.
Based on our analysis, we can confidently say that Nadezhdin’s public statements have nothing to do with anti-war rhetoric. On the contrary, the majority of his statements are openly imperialistic and deny the existence of Ukraine as an independent nation separate from the Russian people.
In his political program, Nadezhdin refuses even to discuss the idea of paying reparations to Ukrainians who suffered from Russian aggression and claims that the residents of the occupied territories don’t want to be part of Ukraine. As a potential president, Nadezhdin denies the possibility of participating in the international trials of Russian war criminals such as Vladimir Putin, against whom the Hague International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant on a charge of deportation of Ukrainian children.
The "anti-war" nature of Nadezhdin’s election program is best illustrated in the following quotation: "Zelensky leads Ukraine towards disaster by saying that he wants to retake Crimea by military means and all that stuff. It’s not going to happen".
In January 2024, Nadezhdin made the following statement: "It doesn’t matter where the border runs, the most important thing is to cease fire. And to discuss peace for a long, many years". He also said, "Russians are good at fighting wars. The problem is that Russians are also fighting on the other side of the frontline. They call themselves Ukrainians, but they are Russians just like us". The Russian propaganda machine spreads similar narratives about "one nation" to deny the existence of Ukrainian statehood and justify the commission of acts of genocide.
In his latest interviews, Nadezhdin systematically refused to recognize the territorial integrity of Ukraine: he doesn’t plan to hand back the occupied territories. Instead, he wants to "establish a new border". In the words of Nadezhdin, "The people should decide for themselves what country they want to live in." Russian propagandists are using the same rhetoric; in particular, Margarita Simonyan said that Russia is ready to hold a new "referendum" in the occupied territories after "freezing the war."
However, even a theoretical discussion on the topic of the new "referendum" in the occupied territories is faced with the problem of deportation of Ukrainians and, as historian Timothy Snyder puts it, "settler colonialism." According to Russian official statistics, at least 200,000 Russians moved to Crimea in the 2014–2021 timeframe. In other occupied territories, Russia is also systematically trying to replace the Ukrainian population with immigrants from the Russian "province."
International law defines the transfer by the occupying power of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies as a war crime. According to the results of the EBU (European Broadcasting Union) investigation, Russia resorted to systematic replacement of the population of the occupied territories of Ukraine, forced Russification, and issuance of Russian passports. According to Human Rights Watch, there are currently about 2 million Ukrainians in Russia. The majority of them were forcibly deported to Russia.
In 2015, Nadezhdin said that he has no objections to holding a new "referendum" in Crimea, but he "foreknows" what would be the result: "The answer will be the same—remain part of Russia. We can’t give away Crimea". At the time, the politician often appeared as an expert on Russian TV talk shows. The Russian government used his public image of a liberal politician who believes that the pseudo-referendum in Crimea "violated the international rules, but it was the right thing to do in fact and spirit" to simulate the clash of opinions in Russian society.
Recently, Nadezhdin said that Vladimir Putin should have refrained from annexing Crimea, but instead, he should have retained de facto control over the peninsula by declaring it an "independent state," in which case Russia would have avoided international sanctions.
Furthermore, Nadezhdin sees no possibility of reaching a peace agreement with Ukraine as long as Volodymyr Zelensky stays in power. For instance, he would prefer to hold talks with a new government headed by Oleksiy Arestovych. At the same time, the former President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev and propagandist Margarita Simonyan also deny the possibility of holding peace negotiations with President Zelensky.
In the course of his election campaign, Nadezhdin claimed that he was not afraid of going to prison for taking an anti-war stance because "Ukrainians receive a prison term for criticizing their government more often than Russians do." However, he refused to provide concrete examples of political persecution in Ukraine.
In the past, Nadezhdin was critical of potential revolts against Putin because he didn’t want Russia to "descend into civil war as was the case in Ukraine." Nowadays, he provides financial aid to Russian soldiers and refers to them as "the people who carry out their duty to their country, and they should be treated humanely." Nadezhdin also uses "his connections to Russian Defense Ministry officials to withdraw certain people from the frontline to the rear."
According to Nadezhdin, one of the main tasks of his election campaign is to "restore trust-based relations between Russia and the Western countries, especially since it’s the West that provides aid to Ukraine." During an interview with Ksenia Sobchak, Nadezhdin said that "he will reach an agreement with Trump, Scholz, and Macron, he will convince them that peace is more important than the restoration of Ukraine’s sovereignty within its borders, and they will send a signal to Zelensky." Nadezhdin is also betting that Donald Trump will win the U.S. presidential election and force Ukraine to enter into negotiations on new "referendums," so that "the United States stop sponsoring the war and sending aid to Ukraine."
As we can see, Boris Nadezhdin’s rhetoric is virtually identical to that of the Russian state propaganda. Not only does he deny our country the right to international subjectivity and tries to violate the principle "Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine," but he also pursues a key strategy adopted by the Russian authorities – which is to cut off military aid to Kyiv, freeze the war and maintain control over the temporarily occupied territories.