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Why a disqualified Russian candidate remains a critic of Putin

Boris Nadezhdin, a liberal Russian politician who was disqualified from the March presidential election, awaits a meeting of Russia's Central Election Commission in Moscow, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024.
Alexander Zemlianichenko
Boris Nadezhdin, a liberal Russian politician who was disqualified from the March presidential election, awaits a meeting of Russia's Central Election Commission in Moscow, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024.

Updated February 21, 2024 at 2:11 PM ET

When Alexei Navalny died in an Arctic penal colony last Friday, Russia lost its most visible foe of Vladimir Putin's government. Other dissidents say they'll keep fighting.

Politician Boris Nadezhdin is a Ukraine war critic, who was barred from running in next month's presidential election.

Russians stood in line by the thousands in the cold to sign petitions for him to run for president.

When Nadezhdin gained momentum, the electoral commission said he had too many invalid signatures to qualify. He lost an appeal of that ruling last week.

The 60-year-old legislator has been active in local politics for decades. He appears on Russian talk shows to argue a liberal point of view against the war in Ukraine and in favor of engagement with the West.

Even though he will not appear on next month's presidential ballot, Nadezhdin plans to keep trying to change the Russian system from within.

"I see no other way to change the politics and the power in Russia," he said. "I understand that elections now [are] not very free and fair, but other ways to change the power [are] much worse."

Boris Nadezhdin spoke to Morning Edition's A Martínez on Tuesday about dissent in Russia after the death of Navalny.

The interview was edited for length and clarity.


A Martínez: What was your reaction to the death of Alexei Navalny?

Boris Nadezhdin: It was during an interview [with] some media. When I was [told] that Navalny died, I even [had] no words to say. And I stopped the interview.

It was [a] very big shock for me. He was and he is the symbol of Russian opposition. And of course it's [a] difficult and dangerous job to be in opposition. I understand all the risks . I think Alexei Navalny was a very strong critic of Putin personally. I suppose this was the main reason for his problems with [the] Russian system.

Martínez: I've heard you say that you don't criticize Vladimir Putin personally, that you just criticize his policies or his decisions. But isn't that criticizing Putin, when you criticize what he's done?

Nadezhdin: Yes, I never criticize Putin personally. I criticize only his decisions, for more than 20 years, by the way. But I [am] still alive, and I am not in prison now.

Maybe one reason is I never criticize Putin, but maybe another reason [is] because Alexei Navalny – he is young. And I'm from the generation of modern Russian leaders, and I worked with many key figures.

Martínez: You have said that you are not in support of the war that Vladimir Putin is waging against Ukraine, but what other policies or decisions do you disagree with Vladimir Putin on?

Nadezhdin: I am sure that the conflict in Ukraine was a dramatic, fatal mistake of Putin. And the influence of this mistake will be very long and very bad for Russia. But for the quarter of a century that Putin [has been] in power, he destroyed the key institutions of [the] modern state in Russia. We have no independent court. We have no independent parliament. We have no free media. We have no free and fair elections. And then we spent a lot of money for military tasks, but we spent less and less money for education, less and less money for healthcare.

Martínez: Do you think the attention that you've gotten lately might be dangerous for you?

Nadezhdin: We have the Russian proverb, "If you are afraid of wolves, you should not go to the forest."

Martínez: So you still have hope, then, for Russia's future?

Nadezhdin: I have to do my job. For 30 years, I [have been] in Russian politics. And for 20 years, I [have been] in opposition. I am 60 years old now. I think I have maybe ten or 15 years, and I'll try to do my best. My aim is that Russia should be [a] peaceful and free country, and I am absolutely sure that it's quite possible to achieve in ten or 15 years.

Martínez: How likely, do you think, the people in Russia will demand change?

Nadezhdin: The key point is the understanding of young people in these long lines of people, staying [in] a deep freeze sometimes, to support me, to give the signatures. The people [were] very young. The young people [are] the future of [the] country. And the speeches of Putin, about Ukraine, about history ... are not understandable for young people, absolutely. And so [the] politics of Putin has no future at all.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Taylor Haney is a producer and director for NPR's Morning Edition and Up First.
Lisa Thomson