Russia appears poised to bar the only remaining anti-war candidate from presidential election.
Election officials rejected almost 10,000 of the signatures Nadezhdin needed to run.
Nadezhdin's popularity appears larger than expected, experts say, and may hurt perceptions of Putin and the war.
Ahead of next month's presidential election, Russian officials appear poised to bar the only anti-war candidate, Boris Nadezhdin, from running.
The move, experts say, suggests Nadezhdin was more popular than the Kremlin expected — and the votes he receives could cast negative light on Russian President Vladimir Putin and the war in Ukraine.
On Monday, a Russian Central Election Commission working group rejected more than 15% percent — almost 10,000 — of an initial 60,000 signatures submitted by Nadezhdin's campaign showing that he was qualified to run in March's presidential election.
The amount rejected was substantial and, after the working group recommended Nadezhdin be barred from running, could mark the end of his campaign. The commission will likely release a final decision later this week.
Nadezhdin and his campaign swiftly responded, saying they'd verify enough signatures to qualify and will appeal to the Russian Supreme Court should the commission reject his candidacy.
Russian election law states that candidates have to gather 100,000 signatures to run. Nadezhdin's campaign said he gathered 180,000. He received support from tens of thousands of anti-war Russians, who, in January, lined up outside in the freezing cold to help him get on the ballet, The Washington Post reported.
While some supporters didn't agree with all of Nadezhdin's views and few believed that he could realistically win, the show of support was staggering. It sent a clear message to the Kremlin and Putin. Now, it appears Nadezhdin's popularity may have them nervous.
In late January, The Institute for the Study of War, a US-based think tank, assessed that the Kremlin might want to use the upcoming presidential election "as an unofficial referendum on Russia's war in Ukraine by allowing Nadezhdin to run in an election that portrays Russian President Vladimir Putin (and by extension his war in Ukraine) as overwhelmingly popular."
The move to throw out Nadezhdin's candidacy suggests the Kremlin may no longer want him on the ballot because it'll take too many votes from Putin and reduce his margin of victory, ISW explained in a Monday assessment.
Kremlin critic and the director of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation Ivan Zhdanov dismissed the idea that Nadezhdin's signatures were invalid. "Nadezhdin, of course, collected real signatures. It's always visible. The Kremlin simply decided not to let him in," he wrote on X.
Zhdanov also said Nadezhdin would surely be denied candidacy on the commission, calling it "already a fact" even if officials are taking until later this week to release their decision.
Opponents and opposition movements within Russia have long accused Russian authorities of manipulating and rigging elections, and some top officials have even seemingly implied it. Critics say only certain candidates who either relatively align with Putin's positions or won't overshadow him have been allowed on the ballot. In a lot of cases, such as that of Navalny, speaking out or running against Putin can have dire consequences.
The war in Ukraine has been ongoing for nearly two years now and has resulted in 315,000 Russian casualties, according to US estimates. Russia has also suffered severe equipment losses, doing lasting damage to the military Putin has been building for decades.
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