Kremlin propagandists finally acknowledge anti-war presidential hopeful Boris Nadezhdin, and — surprise! — they say Kyiv and Russia’s exiled opposition are controlling him
For the past few weeks, Russian state TV largely ignored presidential hopeful Boris Nadezhdin’s plans to run for office. Now, after he submitted 105,000 signatures in support of his candidacy to Russia’s Central Election Commission, state propaganda channels are starting to weigh in. Their explanation for his sudden popularity? Foreign interference by Ukrainian intelligence, Navalny supporters, and exiled Kremlin critics.
Russian state television first mentioned Boris Nadezhdin’s plans to run for president on January 30. During an episode of propagandist Vladimir Solovyov’s talk show, he told viewers that Nadezhdin “began as an ardent democrat, once active in the government, sometime in the ’90s, and has now suddenly decided to become a presidential candidate — though unclear in whose interest.” Still, Solovyov ventured some ideas, claiming that supporters of jailed Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny, members of Ukrainian intelligence, and the exiled opposition figures Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Maxim Katz were all involved in coordinating Nadezhdin’s signature-collection campaign.
“Boris is just an unhappy person my age who apparently decided, in his old age, to make some money on anything whatsoever. I feel bad for Boris. The fool didn’t realize that he’s not being set up to run for president but for a criminal case on charges of betraying the Motherland,” said Solovyov, calling Nadezhdin the candidate of the “Ukrainian Nazis.” “Boris, have you no shame!” he added.
Journalist Ilya Shepelin, who studies Russian propaganda, suggested that Solovyov’s statements about Nadezhdin weren’t improvised but rather prepared for him to read off of a teleprompter.
The next morning, Solovyov was back at it, with a banner at the bottom of the screen saying it was time to “drop Nadezhdin” because he hadn’t collected enough signatures. Solovyov then showed screenshots and audio recordings, which he attributed to Maxim Katz, where the opposition figure allegedly said certain files needed to be “redone” to hide the “Ukrainian traces.” Katz later called the audio recording a fake.
In the past few days, Solovyov has shared several posts about Nadezhdin on his Telegram channel. On January 31, he shared a post by Alexey Volkov, a former coordinator of a Navalny campaign headquarters in Volgograd, who said there was also significant tampering during the signature-collection process in the 2015 regional elections.
Sergey Karnaukhov, a host on the Solovyov Live channel, wrote on Telegram that “an informed insider” said the goal of the “whole [Nadezhdin] story” is to “make [Navalny’s] Anti-Corruption Foundation irrelevant” and pit Navalny’s supporters against those of Katz. “The goal was to fill the radical opposition niche with an establishment player,” wrote Karnaukhov.
On January 31, Channel One, Russia 1, and the network NTV all reported on Nadezhdin, playing a video of his team carrying boxes of signatures, followed by a Central Election Commission worker pointing to irregularities (such as crossed out documents) but saying it didn’t qualify as an outright rule violation. On Telegram, Russia Today shared the video together with comments saying that “deficiencies were found.” On Channel One, political analyst Pavel Danilin attributed the problem of “submitting quality signatures” to a “lack of support from society” or “pseudo-support” from “provocateurs abroad.”
Independent journalist Mikhail Fishman speculated that the coordinated propaganda campaign against Nadezhdin means he likely will be allowed to register for the election: “The Kremlin might have considered it more effective to discredit Nadezhdin rather than reject him from running in the election. Nadezhdin against Putin? It’s funny, isn’t it? They’ll roast him on TV. There’ll be nothing left of him by the elections. And the Kremlin controls vote-counting, anyway,” reasoned Fishman, arguing that Nadezhdin will be allowed to run only so the Putin regime can “mobilize against an internal enemy.”
However, journalist Farida Rustamova said that her sources in the Russian leadership “strongly doubt” Nadezhdin will be allowed to run in the election.
A survey conducted by the independent research group Russian Field on January 27–30 found that Nadezhdin’s rating in the past month had reached 10 percent among those who plan to vote in the election and know whom they want to support (while his rating was nearly 8 percent among all respondents).
In late January, two sources in the Putin administration told Meduza that the Kremlin wasn’t prepared to allow election officials to register any anti-war candidates: “There’s a portion of the electorate that wants the war to end. If [Putin’s opponent in the elections] decides to cater to this demand, they may get a decent percentage. And [the Putin administration] doesn’t need that,” said one of the sources.
Russia’s Central Election Commission has 10 days to reach a decision on Nadezhdin’s eligibility to run for office. The contest itself (which Vladimir Putin is certain to win) will be held over three days from March 15 to March 17.