Russia Bars Antiwar Candidate in Election Putin Is All But Sure of Winning

Russian authorities on Thursday banned from the presidential race the only candidate who had openly contested President Vladimir V. Putin’s hold on power in Russia, and who called the decision to invade Ukraine a “fatal mistake.”

The move by Russia’s Central Electoral Commission, the body that administers elections in Russia, was the latest predictable twist in a campaign that few doubt will result in Mr. Putin’s re-election in March.

Mr. Putin’s expected victory in the March 15-17 presidential election would secure him a fifth term in the Kremlin, cementing his rule as one of the longest and most consequential in Russian history.

The commission’s dismissal of the antiwar candidate, Boris B. Nadezhdin, demonstrated how the Kremlin has decided to remove all contenders who deviate from the party line. Mr. Nadezhdin had made his intention to stop the war in Ukraine central to his campaign, drawing thousands of supporters across Russia.

More than 112 million people, including in occupied areas of Ukraine, have the right to vote in the election, and about 65 percent of them are expected to do so based on the turnout in previous elections.

Instead of an election, analysts say the upcoming vote will mainly be a referendum on Mr. Putin’s policies — most of all his decision to invade Ukraine two years ago.

“One should not treat it as a classic election under democratic standards,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center. “Still, this is a serious procedure that represents a stress to the system.”

Here is a guide on what to expect.

As in the previous election in 2018, Mr. Putin is running as a self-nominated candidate, without a party affiliation, and he has yet to publish an election platform.

He is unlikely to draw divisions between his work as president and his campaigning for re-election.

Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, said in late January that Mr. Putin’s daily routine would not be much different from his usual presidential schedule.

So far, Mr. Putin has participated in only one campaign event, meeting with his followers for a question-and-answer session in Moscow at the end of January.

Mr. Putin’s decision to run without a party affiliation highlights his positioning as someone above the political fray in Russia, said Aleksei Venediktov, the former editor of Ekho Moskvy, a popular radio station that was shut down by the government after the invasion of Ukraine.

“Putin has declared that he has a contract with the people, not with the elites,” Mr. Venediktov said.

In 2018, Mr. Putin secured nearly 77 percent of the vote, a tally he is widely expected to surpass this time given the Kremlin’s full control of the country’s political and media spheres.

The war in Ukraine has been a major backdrop to the presidential campaign so far. While Russians have overwhelmingly supported the war, a growing number tell pollsters that they would like the conflict to end in negotiations.

While Mr. Putin has showcased his support of Russian soldiers and their families, at least two other potential candidates have made antiwar messaging central to their presidential bids.

With Mr. Nadezhdin being barred from the ballot, two candidates have now been rejected by the Central Electoral Commission.

Yekaterina Duntsova, a TV journalist and a former municipal deputy who opposes the war, had her application rejected because of what she has said were trivial mistakes in her paperwork. Some dates were filled in a different format across the document, she has said.

Mr. Nadezhdin, a municipal deputy in a suburban town near Moscow, had been nominated by the Civic Platform party, which is not represented in the State Duma, the lower house of Parliament.

The election administrator said it had rejected his application to run because it found too many mistakes in the signatures he had submitted. Mr. Nadezhdin said he would appeal the decision.

Ever since Mr. Putin was first elected as Russian president more than two decades ago, the Kremlin has worked hard to tighten its control over the electoral process.

All major television networks and print and internet media outlets have gradually been put under the control of the government.

Most importantly, all serious rivals have been sidelined through intimidation and legal action. Aleksei A. Navalny, an opposition politician, is currently serving a 19-year sentence in a remote prison in the Russian Arctic on what his allies and legal observers say are trumped-up charges.

In an election where the result is seen as a foregone conclusion, the other candidates who are running are doing so for a variety of reasons other than winning.

Some are being encouraged by the Kremlin to do so to add a veneer of legitimacy to the race, analysts say; others want to use the campaign to increase their profiles or amplify their platforms — like ending the war in Ukraine.

Eleven potential candidates have had their applications accepted by the Central Electoral Commission to register for the presidential race. The commission can turn down applications for a variety of reasons, including if a candidate fails to secure enough signatures endorsing them. (Candidates from parties not in the Duma need to gather 100,000 signatures from across Russia, and independents 300,000.)

Apart from Mr. Putin, three other candidates have been nominated by political parties represented in the Duma that do not directly question Mr. Putin’s authority.

Leonid E. Slutsky was nominated by the Liberal Democratic Party, which, despite its official name, has traditionally represented a right-wing nationalist-leaning electorate.

Vladislav A. Davankov, a Russian lawmaker, has been nominated by the New People party, which is business-oriented and officially liberal, but Kremlin-friendly. So far, he hasn’t published his platform.

Nikolai M. Kharitonov has been registered for the Communist Party, traditionally the second-strongest political force in Russia. While the party sometimes criticizes the Kremlin’s social policies, like its reliance on liberal market policies, it has not openly campaigned against Mr. Putin in recent years. In January, Mr. Kharitonov revealed his campaign slogan: “We played the game of capitalism enough!”

A number of other little known activists, including an environmental blogger, an economist, and an obscure political spin doctor, had expressed their interest in running, but dropped out by the end of January.

Russians will have three days to cast their votes under a new system introduced in 2020 during the Covid pandemic, designed to make polling stations less congested than on a single day of voting. Critics assert that three-day voting makes it harder to make sure the process is fair and prevent fraud, such as ballot staffing, especially at night, when the ballots are removed from the public eye.

Monitoring of the election by outside and independent Russian groups will also be hampered by legislation that limits such activities — and by fear, as independent monitors are targeted by the authorities. The head of the leading nongovernmental elections monitoring watchdog was arrested in August.

In 29 Russian regions, including in annexed Crimea and Sevastopol, people will have the ability to vote electronically.

In Ukrainian regions that were annexed by Russia in 2022, people will be allowed to vote with their Ukrainian passports, the electoral commission has said. There will also be 276 polling stations in 143 countries abroad.

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