From Nezavisimaya gazeta, Jan. 25, 2024, p. 2. Complete text:

The politician Boris Nadezhdin announced that he has collected over 100,000 voter signatures to register for the presidential election. This is the required minimum. Nadezhdin himself plans to continue the collection: There is no guarantee that the CEC will deem all the signatures valid, so he needs a reserve.

Earlier, it became known that Noviye Luydi presidential candidate Vladislav Davankov signed [a petition] to nominate Nadezhdin in Yaroslavl. He said that he did not agree with Nadezhdin on everything, but that he believes “there should be political competition in Russia.” “I myself know how difficult it is to collect signatures. I believe that every candidate that submits documents and collects signatures should be registered. This is my small contribution. This week, I will sign for other candidates as well,” he said.

This gesture can, of course, be understood in different ways. Political analysts and commentators have different interpretations of it. Almost all of them doubt that Nadezhdin will be registered, regardless of how many signatures he brings to the CEC. Thus, Davankov will be able to claim Nadezhdin’s support, electorate and, as it sometimes called, symbolic liberal capital. Some believe that the Noviye Luydi nominee is still playing into the government’s hands. He is occupying an available liberal niche, which means he could draw people to the polls and help increase turnout and, consequently, the legitimacy of the election itself.

There are different opinions about Davankov’s electoral activity. Some say that Leonid Slutsky is the only [candidate] who travels around the regions more than he does. Others, however, believe that Davankov is only counting on attention from the capital’s political public pages on Telegram, because the government doesn’t need any additional activity from him that could have an unpredictable effect.

Could Vladislav Davankov perform well in the election? For him, success is clearly not victory or a second round (one can’t even dream of that), but recognizability. This is work for the long haul, important work for Noviye Luydi, whose position in the political system has not seemed secure or certain since the start of the SMO. This party arrived in the Duma as a moderate liberal party. It was considered important for the authorities to fill this niche. The big question is whether it’s important now, since the agenda has been reduced to its lowest common denominator.

It’s hard to call Noviye Luydi an idea-driven, ideological party. Can they be said to be liberals? No, if we have in mind the specific Russian understanding of liberalism as an uncompromising, opposition-oriented, Western-oriented, anti-Putin narrative. Noviye Luydi, for example, is in complete consensus with the Duma in terms of the Crimea, the new territories, the SMO and foreign policy. But if we look at economic issues, this party seems more liberal than others and puts more focus on the market and protecting entrepreneurs. We can understand from Davankov’s public statements what exactly is now allowed for conventional liberal discourse. For example, it’s okay to complain about the ban on several social media Web sites. It’s okay to support a woman’s right to an abortion.

And it’s probably okay to claim Nadezhdin’s symbolic capital – his protest, pacifist and liberal capital. Ten years ago, the government might have seen Davankov as a spoiler candidate for the entire nonestablishment opposition, whose potential was difficult to assess. But now we’re seeing the results of the crackdown on the political space in recent years. If the crackdown was successful, neither Nadezhdin nor Davankov will receive significant shares of the vote from the liberal electorate. In the mind of the authorities, that electorate is now miniscule, and this can now be demonstrated in the election.