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Putin challenger says majority of Russians want Ukraine war to end | Elections News

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Presidential hopeful Boris Nadezhdin tells Al Jazeera decision to block him from contesting elections was ‘political’.

Russian antiwar presidential hopeful Boris Nadezhdin said a “majority” of people in Russia want the conflict with Ukraine to end and promised to challenge the electoral body’s decision barring him from running in the March elections against incumbent Vladimir Putin.

In an interview with Al Jazeera on Friday, Nadezhdin said the Central Election Commission (CEC) ruling was a “political decision”, which his lawyers were preparing to challenge in the Supreme Court.

“I don’t know who exactly decided [that] about me, but I know exactly the reason … because my election rating, the number of people who are ready to vote for me grows 5 percent a week,” he said.

Nadezhdin has criticised Putin, who he has said made a “fatal mistake” by launching the invasion, and has pledged to end it via negotiation.

“[The] official understanding is that all the society is for Putin, for [the] special military operation as we call it, but it’s not so,” he said. “Majority of people in Russia want the conflict in Ukraine to stop.”

Dissenting voices have not been tolerated in Russia and people have been routinely criminalised by strict antidefamation laws that make it illegal to speak negatively about the invasion and the conduct of the military.

Those found guilty of spreading “fake information” about the army could face up to 15 years in prison.

Asked if he was concerned about being penalised under the war censorship laws, Nadezhdin said, “The problem is not if I’m afraid or if I’m not afraid – frankly speaking, I am ready for anything.”

He told Al Jazeera, “But I never criticise Putin personally. I only criticise his politics in legal terms. Always I am in accordance with the Russian constitution and Russian laws.”

“[For] 30 years, I have been in Russian politics, and I know personally all the Russian governmental officials, and they know me, maybe this is the reason why I’m not in prison.”

Nadezhdin, a 60-year-old municipal councillor, running on the ticket of the small centre-right Civic Initiative party, has said he collected more than 100,000 signatures across Russia required to register as a candidate for the election to be held on March 15-17.

But the CEC said it found that 15 percent of the signatures were invalid.

The Kremlin has said that it does not see Nadezhdin as a serious rival to Putin and that the decision by the commission was in line with procedure.

Putin is almost certain to win re-election to extend his 24-year leadership of Russia, including eight years as prime minister, for at least another six years.

But Nadezhdin is ready for a fight.

He said if the Supreme Court allows him to run then he would have a “very big result and it would be a big problem for our government”.

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