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Boris Nadezhdin speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in Moscow. January 24, 2024.

‘Do you think I’ve lost my mind?’ Meduza’s interview with Boris Nadezhdin, the man hoping to replace Putin and end Russia’s war in Ukraine

Source: Meduza
Boris Nadezhdin speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in Moscow. January 24, 2024.
Boris Nadezhdin speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in Moscow. January 24, 2024.
Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP / Scanpix / LETA

Until recently, few in the West had ever heard the name Boris Nadezhdin. But over the last two weeks, this plain-spoken political veteran has done the near-impossible: he’s introduced some suspense into Russia’s presidential race. While virtually nobody believes he’ll be Russia’s next leader, the widespread support Russians have shown for his anti-war message means the Kremlin now has to decide between either barring him from the race and further delegitimizing the election in the eyes of the public, or kicking the can down the road by letting him register his candidacy — and allowing his popularity to grow. We’ll likely know their choice on January 31, when Nadezhdin plans to submit his campaign application to Russia’s Central Election Commission. At the request of the independent journalists’ collective Bereg, Meduza correspondents Margarita Lyutova and Andrey Pertsev spoke to Boris Nadezhdin about his political platform, his contingency plans, and what he would do if the impossible happened and he became Russia’s president. Meduza in English is sharing an abridged translation of the interview.

From crazy idea to near-reality

Margarita Lyutova: When did you decide to run for president?

On July 20, at the Central Election Commission (CEC) meeting where they denied my registration to run for governor of the Moscow region, in the heat of the moment, I simply said: “Well, if you’re not going to let me run for Moscow governor, I’ll do you one better: I’ll run for president!” That’s in the transcript — you can find it right now on the CEC website. At the time, they all laughed me off: “Sure you will, Boris.”

At that point, it was just my emotions speaking, but afterward, I really started thinking about finding a way to join a presidential campaign. But I didn’t think I would actually join [the race] as a candidate myself. I was waiting for someone more well-known to announce they’d run. Remember how there were reports that [former Yekaterinburg Mayor and war critic] Evgeny Roizman, [former Echo of Moscow editor-in-chief] Alexei Venediktov, or [journalist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate] Dmitry Muratov [might run]? And I thought that I would help, like I did in all of the previous elections. […]

But pretty soon it’s August, and then September, and everyone has their excuses for not running. And I start to realize that I’m the only one who’s said at some point [that I’m going to join the election]. What can I do? I started thinking seriously about it.

I consulted with my family and my close associates who’d worked with me in other elections, and I decided that, yes, I would [run for president]. I started negotiating with various parties because [if you run as a candidate from a party not represented in parliament, you only have to collect] 100,000 signatures [to register your candidacy], rather than 300,000. Ultimately, and not without some hesitation, Andrey Nechayev’s Civic Initiative party agreed to nominate me. These talks happened in September, and it all became a reality sometime in early October.

At that point, I wrote and published my manifesto. It begins with the words: “I’m entering the elections as a principled opponent of Putin’s policies.” It all became more serious. I describe everything that’s happened in this campaign since then as “the four miracles.”

The first miracle was when the party agreed to nominate me. After all, a party that nominates a person with an agenda like mine is taking a risk, as you understand. In Russia, it’s hard to create a new party, but it’s easy to shut one down.

The second miracle was when these young people joined my campaign. They said: “We’ll make your campaign for you, we’ll build you a website for free, you don’t need to pay, and we’ll also raise money for you.” They taught me to fundraise, and we currently have more than 80 million rubles ($896,000) in our account that we raised using their methods. These aren’t funds [from big-money donors], it’s not government funding — this money was sent to me by more than 30,000 people from throughout the entire country. Can you imagine?


The third miracle was when they allowed us to gather signatures To be honest, I thought that I would meet the same fate as [Yekaterina] Duntsova: that they just wouldn’t allow us to collect signatures. But for some reason, things fell into place, and they recognized our party congress. We opened a campaign account, and now we’re gathering signatures.

The fourth (and hopefully not the last) miracle was when we saw the lines [of voters waiting to add their signatures]. All over the world! It was truly a miracle. At every stage, the next stage has seemed impossible, you see? But now, even I’m afraid to speculate about how this might end. 

Lyutova: The first mention of your presidential run on your Telegram channel was a link posted on August 29 to an interview with Dmitry Demushkin on his YouTube channel, Russian March TV. Demushkin is known for his nationalist views, and the [political] leaning of this channel is no secret. How did it come to be that the first time you spoke to a large audience about your candidacy, it was on this particular channel? You didn’t see this as an issue for your electoral prospects? Or was it your way of trying to attract people with whom these nationalist ideas resonate?

First of all, this happened completely by accident. The fact is that I’ve known Demushkin well for a long time — since those ancient days when he was a real out-and-out nationalist. Now he’s still a nationalist, of course, but a fully legal, peaceful one — not the kind he used to be. A decent guy with a complicated past — you’re aware he spent time in prison. He and I just have a good relationship as men, as people. I wouldn’t quite call him a close friend, but we’re comfortable with each other.

And in any case, you know that I’m a Russian patriot. Now, when I’m asked, “Boris, are you a liberal?” my response is: “No, I’m a Russian patriot.” And that’s the simple truth! I sincerely want Russia to be great, but not “great” in the sense that Putin has in mind, firing Kinzhal and Iskander [missiles] all over the place. I want it to be great in the sense that I want it to be a free, peaceful country that everyone wants to visit, and where people are happy.

I’m a Russian patriot. I’ve gone on livestreams with Demushkin; with [former Communist Party member and war critic] Yevgeny Stupin, who’s fully on the left; with [political scientist Ekaterina] Schulmann — I’ve done livestreams with a lot of different people.

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Lyutova: How do you feel about nationalist ideas as a whole? There is a portion of Russians who hold these views.

If you’re running in a presidential election and you want to win more than 10 percent of the vote (and my support is obviously already higher than 10 percent — I’ve seen the survey data), you can’t just rigidly adhere to any one ideology or political camp. You have to genuinely be the president of all Russians, in the literal sense.

And Russians are a diverse group of people. There are those who have left the country — they’re Russians too. There are supporters of [former oil tycoon and opposition figure Mikhail] Khodorkovsky and of [opposition politician Maxim] Katz. But at the same time, strange as it may be, there are also supporters of [Soviet leader Joseph] Stalin. It follows that we must try to do everything we can to ensure those people also see me as a legitimate candidate. This, as you can understand, has a significant impact on your rhetoric, on everything.

Yes, there are proponents of right-wing ideas in Russia — right-wing in the economic, market sense, and so on. But there are also many proponents of socialism and left-wing ideas. You have to understand that if I commit to some clear, firm position right now, if I say, ”This is what I am, I’m a liberal,” or “I, Nadezhdin, am a Russian nationalist…” And by the way, it may sound strange, but there have been moments in my life when I’ve been accused of being a Russian nationalist.

A different approach to LGBTQ+ rights

Lyutova: Judging by your public statements, there are a lot of issues outside of the war that you’ve been wary of commenting on substantively. On the one hand, because of Russia’s repressive laws — and we don’t, by any means, want to force you to break them. And on the other hand, because, as you’ve said, it’s important to you to be the “president of all Russians.” This means your potential voters are left only with hints to help them guess your true positions — for example, on the rights of LGBTQ+ people, on Navalny, and so on. Do you think that the people who support you understand your views correctly? Do you feel this is a problem?

I’m giving exhaustive answers to all of your questions. You’re saying I’m not, but I am. Let’s go point by point. I know Navalny well, and I have for a long time. He will be released. My first decree will be to release the political prisoners. Will he be able to participate in politics? Yes, of course, that’s not even a question. There’s another issue: I will release him, but he also needs to be exonerated, because there’s a court verdict. I’m not going to interfere in the justice system, but it seems to me that our justice system in Russia listens to the president.

The view from the Kremlin

‘The situation took a wrong turn’ How the Kremlin feels about the sudden popularity of Boris Nadezhdin, Russia’s anti-war presidential hopeful

The view from the Kremlin

‘The situation took a wrong turn’ How the Kremlin feels about the sudden popularity of Boris Nadezhdin, Russia’s anti-war presidential hopeful

Lyutova: Did you support Navalny before he was imprisoned? What was your attitude towards him?

I’ve known him for a long time, since even before he was a famous politician. He worked with us in the Union of Right Forces (SPS) under [SPS leader] Nikita Belykh; he was responsible for campaign advertising. I view him as a strong person who chose a very risky path. When he returned to Russia after he was poisoned, I thought: “Well, that’s really something…” It’s possible he decided to make a bet like Nelson Mandela, who spent 20 or 25 years behind bars. I probably wouldn’t have made that choice.

Regarding LGBT rights, my position is simple: it’s written in my platform that I’ll repeal all repressive laws, and they’re all listed there, including the “gay propaganda” law. Of course we’ll repeal it. Or, to be precise, I won’t repeal them myself, as I’m just the president, but I think the State Duma will cancel them.

Lyutova: Even before the complete ban [on the so-called ‘LGBT movement’], the situation for LGBTQ+ people in Russia wasn’t the best. For example, there’s the issue of marriage.

You know, the topic of LGBT people is overblown for political ends everywhere; it’s just that in America, broadly speaking, things are overblown in their favor, and in Russia, it’s the opposite. I grew up and lived most of my life in the USSR. I understood that there were probably some gay people somewhere, but I’d never seen them in my life. They were probably around — well, of course, they always exist in every setting, but somehow, back then, they weren’t very conspicuous, they weren’t always in view. Whereas now, because of all this pro-Kremlin propaganda, people have started thinking, “How terrible — these gays are going to tear the country apart if we let them.” What nonsense! This is a purely personal issue; the state shouldn’t be interfering at all.

Russia’s ‘LGBT movement’ ban

Russia has banned the so-called ‘international LGBT movement’ What does this mean for queer people and activists living there?

14 cards

Lyutova: Do you believe these people’s rights should be given some additional protection in Russia? For example, by allowing them to register their marriages?

It seems to me that the state should forget about their existence completely, and then things will be good for them — much better than they are now.

Lyutova: I don’t think they would agree with you.

In Russia, they would definitely agree. Russia’s not America. We have our traditions and they have theirs. In my view, our gay people are decent members of society in their own right. Let them live, let them work. The government absolutely doesn’t need to be involved — not at all, you see?

Reckoning with Russian war crimes

Lyutova: You’ve said that you want to act “in the interests of Russian citizens,” but that’s very broad language, wouldn’t you agree? A lot of people have questions, for example, about war crimes. Is it your view that people shouldn’t be prosecuted for them outside of Russia?

Of course. If someone committed terrible crimes — regardless of whether they were connected with the special military operation, before the special military operation, or after it — we have a Russian justice system. It’s not the best, of course — we’ve seen the sentences.

But my platform, by the way, explains what I’m going to do with the courts, how I’m going to fix the current situation. And at some point, when I see that these courts are doing their job and ruling in accordance with the law, then we’ll be able to deal with the people who have done these things. But as for right now, that’s simply not possible.

Lyutova: Can Putin be prosecuted?

No, he can’t be prosecuted, because we have the Constitution, we have the Law of the Russian Federation guaranteeing the rights of people who have exercised the powers of the presidency. It applies to two citizens, as you know: Medvedev and Putin. According to this law, they can’t be prosecuted for any crimes.

Lyutova: And you wouldn’t want to change this law?

I don’t think it ought to be changed. What if I mess up in the future, do something someone doesn’t like, and they start prosecuting me for it? Why open that can of worms?

Lyutova: Maybe if there was the threat of prosecution, you wouldn’t make this mess.

You know, this is the trouble. It’s a purely Russian tradition: a new leader comes along and starts repressing everyone who came before him. This constantly happens in our country, and it’s not right.


The low expectations of Boris Nadezhdin A Putin challenger’s anti-war message has thousands of Russians lining up to support him. What’s the catch?


The low expectations of Boris Nadezhdin A Putin challenger’s anti-war message has thousands of Russians lining up to support him. What’s the catch?

Upcoming challenges

Andrey Pertsev: You have survey data [on your popularity], don’t you?

Yes, we have data. I’m not going to talk about it right now; it will be published on January 31. But the fact is that I’m not the only person seeing this. The Kremlin and the Communist Party see it, too. But I can’t get into all of that right now.

Pertsev: Has [Russian Communist Party leader Gennady] Zyuganov called you?

I can’t say everything now, but a lot of interesting stuff is going to come out in the next few days. You’ll see what happens.

Lyutova: Give us a hint.

For now, I’ll say that my approval rating is rising sharply. What’s important here isn’t the rating itself but the speed at which it’s going up. And I’m starting to realize that, generally speaking, I need to prepare for the fact that I’m actually going to run the country. Do you think I’ve lost my mind? Well, I haven’t.

At the same time, the rhetoric is becoming quite different. For example, right now, I’m seriously thinking: imagine [Russian Defense Minister Sergey] Shoigu and the generals of the Russian army are trying to win by military means, which, in my view, is completely impossible, but they’re doing their jobs. Yes, they’re military leaders, they command hundreds of thousands of armed people and all the rest. I become the supreme commander in chief. You see my problem? I need these people to obey me, to carry out my orders, which are going to be extremely different from the ones they’ve been receiving for the last two years. Despite this, I need them to obey my orders, rather than behave like Prigozhin, as you can imagine.

Lyutova: You say that you’re seriously preparing to become president, but let’s consider other likely scenarios — for example, if they refuse to let you register, or if you lose the election. In addition to your more specific political plans, I want to ask about the anti-war Russians who have supported you. Do you think it will be possible for an active, large-scale anti-war movement to form in Russia? And are you ready to be a part of it going forward? Perhaps even to lead it?

You know, it’s essentially already formed: hundreds of thousands of people came out in public to add their signatures [in my support]. The whole world and the whole country saw it. It turned out to be possible: nobody was arrested, because this is a legal action. It’s one thing to stand with a sign reading “For peace” or something else — to put up price tags [with anti-war messages], which isn’t a legal action. We can discuss Article 31 of the Constitution, of course…

The fix: it’s in

Perfecting the art of election fraud How the Kremlin hopes to streamline its vote rigging in Putin’s next run

The fix: it’s in

Perfecting the art of election fraud How the Kremlin hopes to streamline its vote rigging in Putin’s next run

Lyutova: What’s illegal about putting up price tags?

It’s a violation of the rules of conduct in a store. They don’t just put price tags up so that they can get broken later. It’s not a crime, God forbid — nobody should be given 10 years in prison for it. But you can be fined for it, for example. Let’s not go into the details — we know that law-abiding people don’t just stick up new price tags in stores. It’s not important why someone does it; it’s against the law regardless. Not a felony, of course, but let’s put it this way: it’s an unusual action that’s not protected under Russian law. Whereas adding one’s signature in support of a presidential candidate is a completely legal action. In other words, protesting against the country’s current course has become absolutely legal.

My plan is to try to change Russian politics in the interests of these people, and not only them — everyone who votes for me. In any scenario, whether I’m allowed to register, or if I’m not; if I win, or if I don’t. If I don’t become a candidate and I’m barred from the election, or if I do become a candidate but Putin ultimately wins, I’m going to do everything I can to influence Russian politics in a legal way, to participate in elections. After all, there are a lot of elections in Russia this year in addition to the presidential one. They’re electing a new Moscow City Duma, a new Tatarstan State Council, a new Novosibirsk parliament. And it turns out, out of the blue, that I have major political resources right now.

Plan B

Lyutova: There’s one account of the way your campaign developed, one Meduza has written about, that says that you were initially planning to join the presidential race as a way of increasing your name recognition. And that you would then use the political capital to run for State Duma and in other elections.

At the Central Election Commission meeting, when I said for the first time [that I would run for president], I didn’t even have a desire to. It was an act of desperation, an emotional remark. “I’ll show you all, damn it; I’ll run for president!” Later, when that decision turned into something realistic, probably when the party decided to nominate me, then yes, there was a moment when what you’re describing was true. But now the situation has completely changed.

Lyutova: What percent of the vote do you think you’ll win if you’re allowed to register?

Right now, my approval rating is in the double digits. The vehicle’s picking up speed, but how fast will it get? We certainly already have 10 percent.

Pertsev: You’ve already said that if they refuse to let you register, then you have a plan: your supporters will apply for permits to hold protests in 150 cities. What’s the next step if, for example, the authorities refuse to authorize the protests?

I actually have a test situation right now. The Dolgoprudny authorities refused to grant permission to the families of mobilized soldiers who wanted to protest; the denial actually was because of COVID-19. On January 31, the court is going to consider a class action lawsuit from dozens of people. We’ll see what happens.

Seven years in prison for anti-war stickers

‘She won’t survive in prison’ A firsthand account of the conviction of Russian anti-war protester Sasha Skochilenko

Seven years in prison for anti-war stickers

‘She won’t survive in prison’ A firsthand account of the conviction of Russian anti-war protester Sasha Skochilenko

Pertsev: So the next step would be to go to court?

Yesterday, I addressed a large group of my supporters in Moscow. People asked, “What will you do if they don’t let you register?” Personally, I do think they’re going to let me register, because denying my application would cause a bigger problem for them than registering me. But if they don’t register me after all, I’m considering applying for a permit to hold a rally. Not a Maidan [Revolution], God forbid.

Lyutova: And if they deny all of your requests and you lose the lawsuits, what will you do then?

That’s an interesting question. We’ll see how the lawsuit [filed by the mobilized soldiers’ relatives] ends.

Nadezhdin’s relationship with the Kremlin

Pertsev: Is it really realistic to think you can fight the Kremlin? You’ve been involved in a lot of projects that the Kremlin has destroyed, as well as ones that weren’t officially initiatives of the Putin administration but that nonetheless obeyed it. The Union of Right Forces and Mikhail Prokhorov’s Right Cause party, [to name two]. Here’s a naive question: where does the Kremlin’s strength come from?

Russia is a country where the government plays an outsize role. Its role is much greater than in any other country, simply because everything is connected to it. And that’s not something Putin did; it was the same way under the emperor. All of life formed around and revolved around the state, and some of life revolved around the church as well. Now all of life revolves around the state; no significant, independent life has formed outside of it.

When Yeltsin left office, the government was weak, much weaker than it is now. But it contrived to take a modest figure like Putin and to make him president. This plan was not at all obvious in 1999, you have to agree. The state has enormous opportunities; everything is connected to it. Just look at what happens. Even people who would appear to be far outside of the government machine, like celebrities and entertainers. They thought they were free people who could go to a party half-naked, or with socks on their bits — and they were brought to heel. And they all went running to bow down and apologize like good little subjects.

The Kremlin’s message

Russia, the ‘island of tranquility’ Putin’s new campaign will downplay the war while painting the West as rife with problems, Kremlin insiders say

The Kremlin’s message

Russia, the ‘island of tranquility’ Putin’s new campaign will downplay the war while painting the West as rife with problems, Kremlin insiders say

Pertsev: And are you fighting against the government?

I’m not crazy; I’m not trying to fight against the Russian state. Why? I’ve had no problem coexisting with it for many years. My task is a bit different — I want to create mechanisms that will influence the state’s behavior. I’ve essentially created such a mechanism [with this campaign]. One that’s very serious, by the way, because it consists of support from people. That’s my agenda. There’s no doubt that state officials are sitting in the Kremlin right now and thinking: “What are we supposed to do with him?” Their plan for the election has broken, and now they have to think of a new one.

Pertsev: One of their plans had already failed when KPRF head Gennady Zyuganov declined to run for president.

That situation was unpleasant, but it still fell within the realm of normal developments. But now, they have an emergency. They see the survey data just like we do; they understand that everything’s gone down a different path.

Pertsev: Has anyone from the presidential administration come to you with a proposal for resolving this situation?

If they come to me with proposals, it’s going to be hard for them to hide. Remember, when [Yabloko party founder] Grigory [Yavlinsky] went to the Kremlin, the entire country found out about it the next day because [journalist Andrey] Kolesnikov caught him in the act. In my case, it would be difficult to meet someone at the Kremlin without someone noticing.

Pertsev: The Kremlin has proxies, [such as its] political strategists and PR experts. There’s no reason you would have to go to the Putin administration; they could invite you to their homes or a cafe and convey the Kremlin’s wishes to you there.

All kinds of known political strategists come to see me at my home, but so far, nobody has brought any official proposals. They come to tell me about what’s happening. And then these kinds of proposals are made personally.

Pertsev: Made personally by [Putin administration political bloc leader] Sergey Kiriyenko? Or someone even higher up?

Someone at that level, yes.

Boris’s bona fides

Pertsev: If we’re to believe the newspaper Vedomosti, the Putin administration’s political bloc discussed the idea of running a “liberal candidate.”

I’ve heard so many stories about myself — that someone [from the Kremlin allegedly] nominated me [to be their “liberal” candidate], and that then they lost track of who supported me. If you could only hear the things the political technologists who come to me tell me. All kinds of accounts of what happened, extremely unexpected stories about who actually supports me. I was very surprised when I was listening.

Pertsev: Let me put it this way. Did any of Kiriyenko’s political strategists or [Putin administration information bloc leader Alexey] Gromov’s media managers come to you and say, “Be ready to run in the election if need be?”

Some leaks to this effect have made their way to me, but I’m skeptical of them. I know this system well; I was in it myself for several years. That’s not how it works.

Pertsev: You’re constantly asked about your participation in programs [on Russian state TV networks], but…

I was going on TV before there was [Andrey] Norkin, [Yevgenia] Popova, or [Olga] Skabeyeva. There was only Vladimir Solovyov. This was the start of the 2000s — I’ve been going on TV since then. I didn’t just appear on it; I’ve always been on it.

Pertsev: Did they stop inviting you after your anti-Putin statements in May?

It happened earlier than that. There have been periods when I’m on TV and periods when I’m not. Right now I’m not, but maybe later I’ll return. I don’t know.

Pertsev: That’s my question: will you go back on TV if they give you the chance?

Of course. It’s a big platform. And, as everybody knows, I say what I want. I’ve said the exact same words that I wrote in my manifesto — that the special military operation was a fatal mistake by Putin — on Russian television. Maybe the Putin administration decided that it’s better not to have somebody saying that against the backdrop of the election. But I’m saying it anyway.

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Interview by Margarita Lyutova and Andrey Pertsev for Bereg. Abridged English-language version by Sam Breazeale.

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