Boris Nadezhdin invited two categories of people to a dark and empty restaurant on the outskirts of Moscow on Thursday evening.
The most important of them were the wives of soldiers who were called up in the fall of 2022 to the war in Ukraine. The others were journalists. With some exceptions, only Western media attended.
Nadezhdin wanted to show her support for the women who are demanding that their mobilized men be allowed to return home. Some of them have been at war for nearly a year and a half.
– Those of you who do not want to be photographed can sit on the left. “Those of you who don't mind can sit on the right,” Nadezhdin told the women.
Many were excited, some a little scared. Some Russians working for Western media did not come because they were afraid that the FSB security police would come and register the participants.
He challenged Putin on state television
Boris Nadezhdin is the man who spoke before President Putin on the state television channel NTV. Twice even.
– “We must start negotiations on how to end the war,” Nadezhdin said on the “Meeting Place” program in September 2022.
He said that establishing a good relationship with Europe is more important than waging a colonial war in Ukraine.
In May last year, he referred to the presidential elections scheduled for March 17 this year and said that the country should choose a president other than Putin.
The presenters protested, smiled and inserted commercial breaks. Western commentators have analyzed whether the events indicate a “new openness.”
But no, Nadezhdin's result on state television remained unique.
Angry and disappointed women
– The ladies here are patriots. But the war made ordinary women turn against the authorities, Nadezhdin said when he opened the meeting.
Maria's husband and brother were among about 300,000 soldiers mobilized in September 2022. That is, they received a call-up and are therefore not voluntary contract soldiers.
– My husband has been in the trenches since last February. He did not see anything about rotating forces. Nor my brother.
– Maria asks what their fault? She almost feels terrible and wants them home.
Antonina has a 45-year-old man who suffers from chronic gastritis, or gastroenteritis. He was also summoned nearly a year and a half ago.
He thought he would be exempted, but at the mobilization center they claimed the documents might be “forged.”
He has not yet received any treatment for his stomach problems. But he is now in a hospital near the front because he was wounded in battle as a tank driver.
– Send him home, Antonina says when I ask her about her message to Putin.
The women are part of a loose network that calls itself “The Way Home.” They themselves say they count 39,000 soldiers' wives.
The basic requirement is to dismiss those who were summoned approximately a year and a half ago. They also have their own channel on the Russian messaging platform “Telegram”.
– This meeting is unique. Other presidential candidates do not take the time to listen to voters, at least not to those critical of the war. Boris Nadezhdin himself says this.
He needs 100,000 signatures before January 31 to be registered as a presidential candidate.
This is the demand of the candidates who have a party behind them. It has the support of a small and somewhat unknown party, “Borgerinitiativet”.
Nadezhdin tells NRK he thinks it will work out.
– But don't those who sign that they support an opponent in war risk getting into trouble?
– They don't risk anything. The Russian Constitution stipulates that everyone has the right to criticize the current authorities. They can say that Putin is wrong, and that he is leading the country into a dead end.
This is what the former Deputy Speaker of the Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, said. He clearly knows full well that the Constitution is no guarantee against being persecuted for speaking out against war.
There is also a law that punishes statements that defame the Russian Armed Forces with up to 15 years in prison.
But if he gets 100,000 signatures, will the Election Commission accept it?
– In my long political career, I have often collected signatures that were not approved, resulting in me not being registered.
– Last summer, I ran as a candidate for governor of the Moscow region. And you know what? It turned out that I had very few signatures because many of them were “so bad.”
This is just one of the many ways to stop people outside “the system.” The “system” in this context is the parties represented in the National Assembly, the Duma.
Boris Nadezhdin has no chance of becoming the next president of Russia. But the 60-year-old is not giving up, and the desire to help soldiers' wives seems sincere.
Many wonder why he is allowed to criticize the war and Putin as he does.
Perhaps this is because he does not have the same ability to mobilize and organize as opposition politician Alexei Navalny. He was placed in a concentration camp in northwestern Siberia.
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