Russia’s Central Election Commission (CEC) has refused to register presidential hopeful Boris Nadezhdin as a candidate in the country’s upcoming election, invalidating more than 9,000 of the required signatures from supporters that he submitted with his application. According to Meduza’s sources, the Kremlin was never really going to allow Nadezhdin to run against Putin — but the situation took on a new urgency last month when hundreds of thousands of Russians endorsed his candidacy in a surge of support that caught the authorities off guard. While the Putin administration doesn’t believe Nadezhdin would win the election, it does think he could get 10 percent or more of the vote, sending a clear signal to Russian society and potentially depriving the incumbent president of the overwhelming majority he’s aiming for. Meduza special correspondent Andrey Pertsev explains.
According to Meduza’s sources in the Putin administration’s political bloc, there was never any chance that an anti-war candidate like Boris Nadezhdin was going to be allowed to join Russia’s upcoming presidential race. The sources say that the Kremlin did discuss the possibility of letting a “liberal” candidate make it to the election in order to increase voter turnout, but it ultimately decided against the idea, reasoning that it would be easier to use electronic voting machines to artificially boost the official turnout numbers.
The surge of support for Boris Nadezhdin in January, when Russians across the country waited in long lines to add their signatures to back the anti-war candidate, came as an “unpleasant surprise” for the Kremlin. “Naturally, this didn’t add to their desire to register him,” said one source close to the president’s team.
According to the source, any candidate who criticizes the current Russian authorities as directly as Nadezhdin has “wouldn’t have been allowed to run even absent the special military operation — so as not to ruin the KPIs and the vote breakdown.” As Meduza has previously reported, the Kremlin wants Putin to win more than 80 percent of recorded votes in the upcoming elections — more than any candidate in Russian history.
“Right now, it’s just impossible. With everything that’s being said officially, most of all by the president, that society has rallied together to work toward victory. And this could suddenly give the impression that a sizable share of the population is eager for the special military operation to end,” explained a source close to the Kremlin.
The source admits that since Nadezhdin’s campaign began, it’s “gone from being a niche story to being a massive one” — and that the Kremlin underestimated the number of Russians willing to “actively speak out” against the war (even in such an indirect way). According to a survey from the independent research company Russian Field that was commissioned by the Nadezhdin campaign, the anti-war candidate currently has the support of 7.8 percent of voters. To put that in context:
Meduza’s sources close to the Kremlin said they believe this estimate of support for Nadezhdin is roughly accurate, and that his popularity could increase even more as the vote approaches — potentially allowing him to win “at least 10 percent” in the election itself. “This would surpass the results of the candidates from parliamentary parties. It would become too obvious that the party system has got nothing to do with real representation. It would be a person ‘off the street’ getting more votes, and that means something is wrong,” said one source.
At the same time, the sources close to the Kremlin added that in that scenario, some of the votes for Nadezhdin might come from people who support Putin overall but who want the war in Ukraine to end:
As Meduza has reported, Russia’s Central Election Commission is only letting candidates from parties represented in parliament (unlike Boris Nadezhdin) register for the election. While the Kremlin did seriously consider allowing a few candidates from smaller parties to run, hoping they would serve as spoilers to Putin’s better-known opponents, it ultimately decided against this strategy to prevent the race from becoming a “festival of no-names” after Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov and New People leader Alexey Nechayev declined to run.
With the Nadezhdin situation behind it, the Putin administration expects campaign season to be calm going forward. It doesn’t expect the CEC’s refusal to register Nadezhdin to spark any protests; one source said the “demobilization of this part of the electorate” will be the likely outcome. Meduza’s sources also said many of Nadezhdin’s supporters may end up voting for New People candidate Vladislav Davankov, who is “not pushing for war” in comparison to his opponents (though he has been very careful with his statements).
At the same time, one political consultant who works with the Putin administration told Meduza that the Kremlin effectively has no communication with Russians who don’t support the war (security forces generally do this instead) — and that this could become a problem in the future. “The mood [among these people] will be similar to the eve of the 2011 Bolotnaya Square [protests]: we have a certain opinion, and nobody is representing it or taking it into account. But who knows what this will turn into? Definitely not protests right now, or even right after the elections,” he said.
Boris Nadezhdin himself has said in the past that if the CEC refused to register his candidacy, his supporters would not hold “any Maidan [protests].” Instead, he said, he would challenge the refusal in court. On Thursday morning, he reiterated this promise, writing on Telegram: “Running for president in 2024 is the most important political decision of my lifetime. I’m not backing down from my intentions.”