Russian election candidate calls Ukraine war a ‘big mistake’ by Putin

A politician bidding to run against Vladimir Putin in Russia’s upcoming presidential election described the decision to go to war in Ukraine as a “big mistake” in comments to the wives of soldiers on Thursday.

Boris Nadezhdin, representing a centre-right party called Civic Initiative that has no seats in parliament, is seeking to gather the necessary 100,000 signatures from people across Russia to enable him to stand against Putin.

Nadezhdin, 60, told the soldiers’ wives that the war, which the Kremlin calls a “special military operation”, was “a big mistake by Putin, of course, and the consequences will be very grave.”

He said that soldiers at the front were “fulfilling their debt, really spilling their blood there and risking their life — we want them simply to come back.”

Putin’s supporters and opponents alike see his re-election as beyond doubt, given his total control of the levers of power and the fact that his best-known opponent, Alexei Navalny, is serving jail terms totaling more than 30 years in an Arctic penal colony.

Critics say the entire process is a fig leaf of democracy, designed to give the appearance of competition in a system where none exists. The Kremlin says Putin, 71, will win a new six-year term because he has genuine popular support.

It remains unclear whether Nadezhdin will clear the hurdle of 100,000 signatures and how far he will be allowed to push his criticism of the war. Soon after Putin sent his army into Ukraine nearly two years ago, Russia passed laws introducing stiff prison terms for “discrediting” the armed forces or spreading deliberately false information about them.

Nadezhdin has promised to present a plan for ending the conflict. Last week he also aimed sharp criticism at the authorities over heating outages that have struck parts of Russia in the depths of an exceptionally cold winter.

“Cities are freezing. Who is guilty?” he asked in a Telegram post. “The huge amounts of money that have been spent and planned for the special military operation could have been invested in improving the quality of life of my fellow citizens.”

Putin made clear the central importance of the war to his re-election campaign when he announced his intention to run again last month at a meeting with soldiers and mothers of men killed in combat. Last week he marked Orthodox Christmas at a small service with relatives of some of those killed.

The Kremlin leader told Russians last month that Russia was strengthening its position across the front lines in Ukraine and would keep going until it achieved its goals.