In Russia, anti-war candidate tries to harness protest vote against Putin

MOSCOW – Mr Boris Nadezhdin, a 60-year-old former opposition lawmaker, is running a long-shot campaign to challenge Russian President Vladimir Putin for the presidency and says his call to end Russia’s war in Ukraine has put rocket boosters under his bid.

Mr Nadezhdin, who sometimes appears on state television where he criticises the authorities before being swiftly drowned out by television anchors, must collect 100,000 signatures across Russia by the end of January to be registered as a candidate.

His supporters say he has already passed the 100,000 mark, garnering considerable support in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, but still needs more from other parts of Russia as the signatures need to be spread across at least 40 regions of the world’s largest country.

Mr Nadezhdin said he was confident of being registered and had been surprised by how his call to end Russia’s war in Ukraine had prompted people to queue up in the depths of the Russian winter and abroad to give their signatures in his support.

“It (opposition to the war) is huge. People are tired of all this. They want to live a normal life in a normal country, they don’t want what is happening,” he told Reuters in an interview.

“People are putting their signature not because they really like me but simply because it’s a chance to do something for peace, for this whole story to end, and for people to stop dying,” said Mr Nadezhdin, who seemed remarkably relaxed for a man challenging the Kremlin’s formidable political machine.

A small sample of voters interviewed by Reuters appeared to confirm he was attracting a generic anti-war vote.

“I came here to express my anti-war position. I believe this is the only way to declare your position, we don’t have any other yet,” said 42-year-old Moscow resident Sergei Yasinsky.

Tight control

In Russia’s tightly controlled political system, people have run against Mr Putin in the past and portrayed themselves as genuine opponents, only to disclose years later that they were doing so as part of an agreement with the authorities to make up the numbers.

The Kremlin says the March 15 to 17 election is a bona fide political contest and that Mr Putin, who enjoys an approval rating of around 80 per cent, is genuinely popular.

Mr Putin, who has chosen to run as an independent rather than as the candidate of the ruling United Russia party, has already collected more than three million signatures, more than 10 times the 300,000 he needs, say his supporters.

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