A well-known opposition figure in Russia has gone further than ever by openly calling on the nation to elect a president other than Vladimir Putin.
Boris Nadezhdin made the comments on Mesto Vstrechi, the highly watched talk show on government-backed NTV network that routinely features hosts and guests promoting outlandish conspiracy theories and false claims about Ukraine.
As a host tried to talk over him, saying his views were predictable, Nadezhdin said that as long as the Putin government remained in control, there would be “no way” for Russia to “come back to Europe”.
“Next year we have a presidential election,” he said. “We need to choose someone else, and not Putin.”
Ukrainian government advisor and prolific social media personality Anton Gerashchenko shared a clip of the exchange on Twitter.
One of the hosts noted that Nadezhdin has a history of criticising the Putin government and its handling of the invasion of Ukraine. On another state TV show last autumn, he openly speculated that Putin was misled by intelligence services about Ukraine’s determination to resist Russian aggression.
However, his latest remarks represent a step up. In an update on the war in Ukraine, the British Ministry of Defence tweeted that this may be the first time since its start that an opposition figure has called for Putin to be replaced on state-approved TV.
“In the last 15 months, Russia has introduced limitations on freedom of speech which haven’t been seen since Soviet times,” ministry analysts wrote.
“However, there is a realistic possibility that recent vitriolic rhetoric by nationalist figures such as Wagner Group owner Yevgeny Prigozhin is emboldening opposition figures to challenge (the) taboo.”
Prigozhin, whose Wagner private military firm is one of the most important players in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, has been especially outspoken in his criticism of the Kremlin’s handling of the conflict, so much so that he recently had to deny speculation that he might be planning to use his forces in a coup against Putin.
He has also claimed that Kremlin officials are suppressing reporting on him and his group on state media because of his remarks.
“Wagner is not a piece of slippery soap which the bureaucrats have got used to shoving all over the place,” he said. “Wagner is an awl, a stiletto that you cannot hide.”