On the Campaign Trail With a Russian Antiwar Candidate

Thousands of People Came Out to Support Boris Nadezhdin’s Presidential Run. They Refuse to Lose Hope

Russia’s Central Election Commission barred Boris Nadezhdin from running in the March 17 presidential election, but the liberal politician’s campaign still made an impact: It showed that a significant number of Russians want peace and change, writes environmental sociologist Maria Tysiachniouk. Boris Nadezhdin, left, speaking to journalists in Moscow, Russia. Courtesy of AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko.

In December 2023, Russian President Vladimir Putin officially announced his candidacy for the 2024 presidential election. It had long been clear that he had plans to aim for his fifth term in office. Most people in Russia believed he would secure a victory, and that the other candidates served merely to legitimize the electoral process. For Russian authorities, demonstrating majority support for Putin has long been the objective of elections—this time, they were aiming for him to win 80% of the votes. The question was, would anyone be allowed to put up a real challenge, and would voters dare to support them?

The men who initially declared that they would run for president in the March 2024 elections were all establishment candidates who either tacitly or openly backed Putin remaining in power. There was no one who opposed Putin’s war with Ukraine.

Then, Yekaterina Duntsova, a journalist and former Duma deputy in Rzhev, a town west of Moscow, unexpectedly decided to run as an independent candidate. She quickly gained support throughout Russia thanks to her strong antiwar stance and criticism of the country’s direction over the past decade. But the Central Election Commission (CEC), the federal body that organizes and oversees elections, rejected Duntsova’s registration as a candidate in December 2023, citing numerous errors in her submitted documents.

The following month, the CEC approved the documents of another anti-war candidate, Boris Nadezhdin, who was nominated by the Civic Initiative party. Nadezhdin is known for his liberal views and has participated in elections at various levels for almost 35 years. His presidential platform focused on peace, reconciliation, and justice, with a commitment to resolving conflicts through negotiations. He supported holding referendums on disputed territories between Russia and Ukraine. He also emphasized the need to strengthen international relations, release political prisoners, and repeal discriminatory laws against organizations and individuals, including the LGBT community.

The election commission approved his initial documents, but Nadezhdin needed to collect 100,000 signatures from Russian voters from different regions to get on the ballot. Inspired by Nadezdin’s platform, I decided to join his team as a volunteer at a signature collection site in St. Petersburg in January 2024. I am an environmental sociologist and had never before been involved in politics. But Nadezhdin’s emphasis on peace resonated with me, and I was eager to make a difference.

I am an environmental sociologist and had never before been involved in politics. But Nadezhdin’s emphasis on peace resonated with me, and I was eager to make a difference.

On January 13, Nadezhdin arrived in St. Petersburg to engage with citizens at a public event in one of the city’s business centers. The atmosphere was electrifying, resembling the kind of unauthorized rally strictly prohibited in Russia. Nadezhdin delivered a speech and Q&A session that gave people the opportunity to express their views on the Putin regime and the future of Russia through an open microphone session.

I spent 12 days collecting signatures. Initially, it was slow: only a few individuals were willing to sign in support of Nadezhdin. But as the submission deadline approached, there was a significant surge in participation, particularly among young people, ages 18 to 25. Many were spurred on by exiled political players like Maxim Kats and the TV channel Dozhd, also known as TV Rain, as well as social media. This wave of enthusiasm rapidly spread across Russia, and long queues formed at Nadezhdin signature collection sites throughout the country.

By January 21, the waiting time at the Nadezhdin signature collection site in St. Petersburg was 2 to 4.5 hours. The collection site operated around the clock, spending 9 to 10 hours each day collecting signatures. At night, volunteers did quality checks to ensure that people’s handwriting would satisfy the CEC’s intricate and complicated rules and regulations.

According to the CEC’s regulations, Nadezhdin had to collect signatures from at least 40 regions of Russia, with each region limited to a maximum of 2,500 signatures. After our signature collection site surpassed this requirement, quickly collecting 5,000 signatures from residents of St. Petersburg, we shifted to only collecting signatures from people who were officially registered in other regions, as indicated by the official stamp in their passports. Many people were disappointed to be turned away.

On January 31, Boris Nadezhdin submitted 105,000 signatures—the maximum permitted—to the CEC. He had managed to collect 211,000 signatures in Russia alone, and 11,000 more from abroad.

The volunteers who collected signatures in St. Petersburg had doubts about his chances of being registered, but remained hopeful. One of them shared their thoughts in our volunteer group chat:

“Today, at noon, I stood on the street with frozen hands, scrolling through the news channels’ feeds, anxiously waiting for any updates from the Central Election Commission. It’s disheartening, but not surprising. However, I refuse to lose hope or give up, and I wish the same for everyone.”

Nevertheless, on February 8, 2024, the CEC refused to register Boris Nadezhdin’s candidacy. They justified their decision by declaring that more than 5% of the submitted signatures were invalid. Nadezhdin appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, but they rejected the appeal.

My fellow volunteers and I were deeply disappointed by the outcome. “Some people may have questioned the purpose of collecting signatures for Nadezhdin, believing that the CEC would find faults anyway. However, pay attention—the CEC officially recognized that 95,000 signatures are clean,” someone wrote in our chat. “Everyone saw the queues! There are a lot of people from different walks of life who are against the current system, and we showed that there are a lot of us.”

Just over a week later, another candidate for the presidency Vladislav Davankov from the New People party announced at his meetings with voters that he is for negotiations with Ukraine. Simultaneously, the government announced the death of another Putin opponent, Alexei Navalny. Nadezhdin attended his funeral, as did Duntsova.

The Russian government understands that millions of its citizens oppose Putin. Now, the whole world has seen that there are many people in Russia striving for peace, change, and a more inclusive future.


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