Independent candidate Boris Nadezhdin has collected over 100,000 voter signatures for the Russian presidential bid, according to a post on his official website. A total of 101,607 people were reported to have supported Nadezhdin's nomination across 75 regions of Russia.

Previously a liberal lawmaker who once moved in political circles acceptable to the Kremlin, Nadezhdin has emerged as an unlikely candidate for “peace” ahead of the vote in March. 

Thousands of Russians across the country as well as expatriates abroad, including in Georgia, have been queuing to register his name to allow him to challenge Putin in the election, AFP reports.

“I came here to put my signature for Nadezhdin... because he is the candidate who opposes the special military operation,” 53-year-old Avdeyeva told AFP.

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“I want there to be some kind of alternative. All the others [candidates] have the same agenda,” she added.

Under Russian electoral law to secure a valid nomination, Nadezhdin needs to obtain a total of 100,000 signatures from over half of Russia's regions must be submitted to the Central Election Commission (CEC). As there is a cap of 2,500 signatures per region, Nadezhdin's team aims to present qualifying signatures from 40 regions.

On Monday evening his election team said they had gathered nearly 85,000 nominations. However, the numbers on the website indicates that the required number has so far only been achieved in eight regions.

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“We have already collected 101 thousand signatures but not all of these signatures are faultless [qualifying]! 105,000 perfect signatures will need to be submitted to the CEC. That is why we need to collect as many signatures as possible. Now we will post a target of 150,000 signatures on the site,” Nadezhdin's telegram channel says.

A representative from Nadezhdin's headquarters confirmed to the Meduza independent news site that the current signature count is insufficient for registration, with a significant number still needed. Additionally, there are concerns about the validity of some of those collected.

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The collection process in regions will end on Jan. 25, with signatures from Moscow residents registered in other regions given slightly longer.

A number of Russian Telegram channels reported that law enforcement had been trying to impede the of signatures collection process in different cities across the country.

The Sirena news site reported several instances:

Security guards in the Triumph Plaza shopping center in the city of Obninsk in the Kaluga region disrupted signature collection saying it was unapproved, despite signatures in support of Putin have been collected there for Putin since December.

Human rights defender Tatyana Kotlyar and an employee from Nadezhdin's headquarters were detained until police arrived.

In Karelia's Maxi shopping center, guards closely monitored the collector, and Nadezhdin's team was asked not to allow a crowd to gather.

In St. Petersburg, police visited Nadezhdin's headquarters, citing COVID restrictions, interviewing everyone present.

Nadezhdin - whose name includes the Russian word for “hope” - has called Putin's decision to send troops to Ukraine a “fatal mistake” in increasingly vocal and surprising criticism of the Kremlin's military campaign.

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“Out of their comfort zone”

“The [most important] thing that is happening in our country right now is the conflict with Ukraine,” said 37-year-old music teacher Konstantin Filin. 

“Nadezhdin is apparently the person that wants to stop it. I am at least pleased that this many people are ready to get out of their comfort zones and do something,” he said. 

Many in the Moscow queue were surprised to see such a turnout, considering that - even if he secures enough signatures to be registered - Nadezhdin has virtually no chance to become Russian leader.

Putin, who is 71 years old and has held power since 2000, is running for a fifth Kremlin term that will extend his rule until at least 2030.

The vote will take place more than two years into Russia's full-scale offensive, which has been accompanied with a huge crackdown on dissent at home. 

“Putin made a fatal mistake in starting the special military operation,” 60-year-old Nadezhdin said.

He even went as far as saying: “Putin sees the world in the past and is dragging Russia into the past.”

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The statements are exceptional in Russia, which has handed out jail terms for similar publicly expressed views and banned criticism of the “special military operation.”

The momentum for Nadezhdin to run took off at the weekend, thousands of Russians have queued in a bid to help him meet the criteria to be allowed to stand.

The entrance to his Moscow headquarters bears the slogan: “Push the door into the future.”

All the other candidates to face Putin have declared their support for the war in Ukraine.

Those who did not – such as city councilor and pro-peace politician Yekaterina Duntsova -have been barred from the vote. 

Duntsova called on her supporters to back Nadezhdin after authorities refused to register her. 

Maria Feldman, a 20-year-old artist in the Moscow queue said she was responding to Duntsova's call. 

 “I trust her a lot and I think that now, he [Nadezhdin] is the best choice of all,” she told AFP. 

“He is for freedom of speech and a peaceful sky over our heads,” she added.  

Nadezhdin once had a seat in Russia's lower house of parliament, the Duma. He was close to Boris Nemtsov, the Russian liberal opposition assassinated in 2015, before moving into political circles more closely aligned to the Kremlin. 

Despite knowing that Nadezhdin has virtually no chance to become Russian leader, those who queued saw a rare chance to publicly show that they do not support the course Russia has taken, AFP reports.

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“It is a chanceto show the state and those who count our votes our position," said 42-year-old lawyer Pavel.

“In any case, our signatures will be noticed. I think that's important.” 

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