Putin’s Foils: The Other Three Names On The Russian Ballot

1 min read
Systemic opposition candidates Nikolai Kharitonov (left) Vladislav Davankov (center) and Leonid Slutsky
Systemic opposition candidates Nikolai Kharitonov (left), Vladislav Davankov (center), and Leonid Slutsky

The Kremlin’s tight grip on electoral politics and the media means that President Vladimir Putin is sure to secure a new six-year term in the March 15-17 election barring a huge, unexpected development.

But Putin is eager to maintain a veneer of pluralism, even if few people in Russia or abroad are fooled. Urging citizens to vote in brief remarks on March 14, Putin said that holding regular elections “demonstrates the inviolability of one of the basic principles of a democratic state.”

So, while two anti-war would-be candidates were barred from the ballot, three people from what is widely known as the “systemic opposition” have been allowed to run. Here they are:

The Aging Communist

Nikolai Kharitonov
Nikolai Kharitonov

Nikolai Kharitonov, 75, is a senior member of the Communist Party who has been a deputy of the State Duma, the lower parliament house, since 1993. He ran for president in 2004, coming in second to Putin with 13.7 percent of the vote.

The former collective farm director backs the war in Ukraine and has not criticized Putin by name during the campaign. He has run a low-key campaign, visiting museums, meeting small groups, and laying wreaths at Soviet and Russian monuments rather than seeking to stage big rallies.

In meetings with voters, Kharitonov has criticized Russia’s capitalistic turn, praised Soviet achievements, and called for restoring Volgograd’s Soviet-era name, Stalingrad.

The Newbie

Vladislav Davankov
Vladislav Davankov

Vladislav Davankov, 40, a State Duma deputy from the New People party, is the youngest candidate, five years over the minimum age to run for president. A former businessman who casts himself as a relative liberal, he has criticized the government crackdown on the media and freedom of expression, saying it mimics Soviet-era repression, and called for easing state pressure on business.

He has suggested he supports peace talks with Ukraine but “on our terms and with no rollback,” meaning Russia would note cede territory it has occupied. Davankov ran for mayor of Moscow in 2021, coming in fourth with 5.3 percent of the vote according to official results.

Not Zhirinovsky

Leonid Slutsky
Leonid Slutsky

Leonid Slutsky, 56, is chairman of the inaccurately named right-wing Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), having taken the helm after the death in 2022 of its founder, the flamboyant nationalist firebrand Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

A State Duma deputy since 1999, he is chairman of its International Affairs committee. In that role, he has actively supported Putin’s foreign policy, including the invasion of Ukraine.

In 2018, several female journalists accused him of sexual harassment, which he denied. Slutsky is campaigning on the legacy of Zhirinovsky, who consistently ranked among the most trusted politicians in Russia. His campaign slogan is “the work of Zhirinovsky lives.” Long before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Zhirinovsky had called for the Kremlin to seize parts of Ukraine and other former Soviet countries.