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Russian anti-war Putin critic says he has been banned from presidential election

Russian anti-war Putin critic says he has been banned from presidential election

Russian presidential challenger Boris Nadezhdin, who has been critical of both Vladimir Putin and his war in Ukraine, says he has been banned from standing in the election next month.

Putin is expected to easily win the election next month to keep an iron grip on the country that has lasted more than two decades, particularly as the Russian leader has spent years cracking down on opposition figures – repression of dissent that has only become more severe since he ordered the invasion of Ukraine almost two years ago.

Mr Nadezhdin said he would appeal to the Supreme Court after the Central Election Commission (CEC) barred him from the March election . The CEC had previously claimed that it had found flaws in signatures that Mr Nadezhdin and his allies had collected in support of his candidacy and that some of the purported signatures were those of dead people.

Boris Nadezhdin (Reuters)
Boris Nadezhdin (Reuters)

As a candidate nominated by a political party, Mr Nadezhdin needed to gather 100,000 signatures across at least 40 regions in order to stand. The CEC claimed it had found “irregularities” in more than 9,000 of the signatures. That figure was three times higher than the fiver per cent error rate allowed and provides grounds for the commission to disqualify Mr Nadezhdin.

"I collected more than 200,000 signatures across Russia. We conducted the collection openly and honestly - the queues at our headquarters and collection points were watched by the whole world," Mr Nadezhdin said on his Telegram channel.

"Taking part in the presidential election in 2024 is the most important political decision of my life. I am not giving up on my intentions," he added.

Mr Nadezhdin has surprised many observers with his trenchant criticism of the war in Ukraine, something he calls "a fatal mistake" that he would try to end through negotiations. But some Kremlin critics say Mr Mr Nadezhdin, who has been a regular guest on state TV programmes discussing the war, would not have been allowed to get as far as he did in a political system so tightly controlled by the Kremlin without the authorities' blessing, something he denies.

They point to his work in the 1990s as an aide to Sergei Kiriyenko, a prime minister under Boris Yeltsin who is now Putin’s chief of staff – though Mr Nadezhdin was also an associate of Boris Nemstov, a longtime critic of Putin who was murdered in 2015.

The Kremlin wasted no time using the courts to silence Putin’s opposition following the announcement in December last year of the next presidential election, set for 17 March. Three days after Putin announced his intention to run, his biggest rival, Alexei Navalny was declared missing.

He would not be found for another three weeks, having been moved to a penal colony in the Arctic Circle, roughly 1,200 miles northeast of Moscow. He has been in jail since 2021. Mr Navalny has kept up an unceasing campaign against Mr Putin’s autocratic rule from behind bars, remaining the president’s most prominent opponent inside Russia.

“The thought that Putin will be satisfied with sticking me into a barracks in the far north and will stop torturing me in the punishment-confinement was not only cowardly, but naive as well,” he said during his first court appearance since being moved, in January. Mr Navalny, 47, is serving sentences totalling more than 30 years on a range of charges, from fraud to extremist activity. His supporters, and Western nations, say the charges have been trumped up to silence him.

Mr Navalny was arrested when he returned to Moscow in 2021 after recuperating in Germany from nerve agent poisoning, which he blamed on the Kremlin. Before his arrest, he campaigned against official corruption and organised major anti-Kremlin protests. He has since called on anti-Putin voters to go to the polls at noon as part of a legal way of showing dissent – adding that it will be something that cannot be played down by official media.

The Kremlin has taken an extremely hardline against critics of the invasion of Ukraine, with cases becoming the focus of a broader crackdown on dissent. Igor Girkin, a pro-war ultranationalist who had declared his intention to challenge Putin for the presidency, had his pretrial detention extended the day the election was announced.

He has since been sentenced to four years in a penal colony on charges of extremism after he urged Putin to pass power “to someone truly capable and responsible” of running the war in Ukraine.