He was banned from running for president. He stills thinks only elections can change Russia


Despite being disqualified from running for president, Russian opposition politician Boris Nadezhdin still thinks elections are the only way there can ever be a change of government in Russia.

“Elections in Russia now are not fair and not free,” he told CBC News in a Zoom interview from Dolgoprudny, a town on the northern outskirts of Moscow. 

“But I do not know another way to change the politics and the power in Russia.”

Nadezhdin, who campaigned against the war and urged Russia to enter into peace talks, has repeatedly called Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine “a fatal mistake.” 

He is convinced Putin’s “politics have no future” in Russia — even as the man who has ruled the country for about a quarter of a century is slated to be re-elected in just over 10 days. 

He was disqualified from the race last month, after the country’s election commission claimed it found “irregularities,” including the names of deceased people, among the more than 105,000 signatures he’d submitted in support of his campaign. 

WATCH | Opposition politician Boris Nadezhdin on Russia’s future: 

Elections are Russia’s only way to change, says banned anti-war presidential candidate

Despite being banned from running for president in Russia, opposition politician Boris Nadezhdin says elections are the only way the country’s government will change.

Nadezhdin has been participating in Russian elections for three decades, including serving in the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, between 1999 and 2003. His political career includes close connections to opposition figures and Kremlin insiders. 

While he has openly criticized the government on state-controlled media, he has thus far managed to escape the fate of many of Russia’s other dissidents who have been killed, jailed or have fled the country for their own safety. 

Boris Nadezhdin, a representative of Civil Initiative political party, carries a box containing forms with collected signatures as he visits an office of the Central Election Commission office in Moscow on January 31, 2024.
Nadezhdin carries a box containing forms with collected signatures as he visits an office of the Central Election Commission office in Moscow on Jan. 31, 2024. (Shamil Zhumatov/REUTERS)

Same goal; different vision

Nadezhdin says he has the same vision for Russia as Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader who died last month while imprisoned in an Arctic penal colony; his supporters and some Western officials are accusing the Kremlin of directing his death.

Like Navalny, Nadezhdin says he hopes for a free Russia, where people are free to speak their mind without fear, and the absolute power of the Kremlin is curtailed. 

However, they differ in approach, he says. 

He says he would not urge people to take to the streets in protest, because it’s too dangerous, given the state’s often harsh and swift retribution

Despite the Kremlin’s control of the country’s political system, Nadezhdin insisted that elections are the sole option, and dismissed any suggestion that Russia could only change through an uprising.

“Big revolution in Russia would be a very big problem … for all the world,” he said. 

“The collapse of a big country with nuclear weapons is a nightmare.”

In Russia’s upcoming presidential election, which runs March 15 to 17, Putin will be running against three candidates who all support what the Kremlin calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine. 

Controversy in previous elections

Putin, 71, is poised to easily win. In 2020, voters approved a change to the constitution, allowing him to run for president in 2024, and potentially again in 2030. With power centralized around the Kremlin and no meaningful opposition, Putin will likely win a fifth term in an electoral system that many international observers say is plagued by corruption and vote manipulation. 

At the time, Nadezhdin signed a letter urging Russian citizens to reject the changes. However, they were passed in a controversial referendum that independent election observers said was problematic, with concerns that voter turnout in some regions was artificially boosted. 

Results from electronic voting have also been previously contested. The 2021 parliamentary election saw opposition groups and observers claiming some of those results were manipulated. This upcoming presidential election will make the option available in 29 regions, including Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014.

More than 112 million people are eligible to vote in Russia, according to Russian officials. That also includes occupied Ukrainian territory. Nearly two million Russian citizens living abroad are also eligible to vote. 

People put signatures in support of Boris Nadezhdin on January 23, 2024. He was later barred from running for president by Russia's election commission.
Voters sign in support of Nadezhdin on Jan. 23, 2024. He was later barred from running for president by Russia’s election commission, which said it had found ‘irregularities’ in the list, including the names of deceased people. (Evgenia Novozhenina/REUTERS)

Campaign signatures 

Nadezhdin, 60, has launched a number of unsuccessful court appeals to overturn the decision to disqualify him.

Nadezhdin said he collected over 200,000 signatures and submitted about half of them to the electoral commission on Jan. 31. (His party, the centre-right Civic Initiative, isn’t represented in the Russian parliament. Thus, he was required to collect 100,000 voter signatures supporting his candidacy.) 

SOTA Vision, an independent Russian news channel that operates mainly on Telegram, reported a heavy police presence outside when Nadezhdin went to submit the signatures. He was barred from running just over a week later. 

Nadezhdin told CBC News that scrutinizing signatures is a typical way for Russia’s election commission to stop opposition candidates. 

“It is very difficult to collect 200,000 signatures, and very easy to find some problems with letters and numbers,” he said. 

He has publicly vowed he will never give up, but also admits he has no chance of being on the ballot for this election. He said he is using this time to raise his profile and plot for the next one. He believes it will take place much sooner than 2030, because he thinks pressure will build on Putin to step aside. 

“More and more people understand the connection between Putin’s politics and the problems with everyday life,” he said.

He pointed to rising prices and drug shortages as some of the effects of the Western sanctions levelled against Russia over the past two years since its invasion of Ukraine began. 

Nadezhdin says he is confident that Putin’s successor, should he appoint one, will return Russia to “a normal direction” because he believes lawmakers are tiring of the country’s international isolation. 

“They want to be in Europe again. They don’t want to be in China or in North Korea.”

A woman walks past a campaign banner in support of Vladimir Putin, Russian incumbent President and a candidate in the March 2024 presidential election in Salekhard, in the Yamal-Nenets Region, Russia February 22, 2024.
A woman walks past a campaign banner in support of Vladimir Putin, Russian incumbent president, in the Yamal-Nenets Region in Russia. (Maxim Shemetov/REUTERS)

A call for his arrest 

Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said on Jan. 24 during a routine call with the press that the Kremlin didn’t consider Nadezhdin a rival.

But less than a week later, Nadezhdin, who has appeared on Russian talk shows before, drew the ire of one of the country’s biggest television hosts. 

Vladimir Solovyov, who anchors the talk show Evening with Vladimir Solovyov, accused him of being a political prop. Without offering any evidence, Solovyov claimed on his Jan. 30 show that Nadezhdin was being financially supported by exiled opposition figures, and even members of Ukrainian intelligence.

He suggested he be arrested on charges for betraying the motherland.

When asked by CBC News why he thinks he hasn’t yet been arrested for speaking out publicly, Nadezhdin said he wasn’t quite sure, but that it may be because he hasn’t criticized Putin personally — just his politics. 

He called the Russian president “very strong leader,” but also someone whose head is stuck in the 19th century and is more concerned about having a strong military than being a country where “educated and free people” want to live. 

Russia has a history of jailing political dissidents. Over the fall, a Russian artist was sentenced to seven years in prison for replacing supermarket price tags with stickers protesting the war. 

Nadezhdin says if he is ever elected, his first decree will be to free political prisoners. 

“We should change the politics of Russia.

“The track of militarism, the track of isolation, the track of authoritarianism is very bad … for Russia.”

Reindeer herder Arsen Krivoshapkin, 42, looks through a candidates' information broadsheet before casting his ballot during early voting in Russia's presidential election, as members of an electoral commission visit a remote farm in the Sakha Republic, also known as Yakutia, in the northeastern part of Siberia, Russia, February 29, 2024.
Reindeer herder Arsen Krivoshapkin looks through a candidates’ information broadsheet before casting his ballot during early voting in Russia’s presidential election, in the Sakha Republic, also known as Yakutia, in the northeastern part of Siberia. (Roman Kutukov/REUTERS)

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