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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nemtsov Ditches Bid for Kremlin

Union of Right Forces leader Boris Nemtsov announced Wednesday that he would not run for president and called on other opposition candidates to follow suit or risk legitimizing a "farcical" election.

Nemtsov, one of six candidates approved by the Central Elections Commission to run in the March 2 ballot, said he was quitting the race in part because of the opposition's failure to field a single candidate.

"I had always hoped there would be a single candidate from a united democratic opposition, and this had not happened," Nemtsov said by telephone.

Nemtsov's departure leaves former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, head of the Russian People's Democratic Union, as the only remaining candidate in the race from the liberal opposition.

Nemtsov said his decision was also based on the Kremlin's use of so-called administrative resources in backing its handpicked candidate, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

Medvedev, who has the support President Vladimir Putin, is running as the candidate from pro-Kremlin party United Russia.

Opinion polls show Medvedev running away with the race before it has even started. Seventy-nine percent of Russians would vote for Medvedev if the election were held next Sunday, according to the most recent poll conducted by the independent Levada Center. The poll, conducted Dec. 21 to 25, questioned 1,600 voters across the country and had a margin of error of less than 3 percent.

Along with Nemtsov, Kasyanov and Medvedev, approved to run in the election are Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Democratic Party leader Andrei Bogdanov.

Nemtsov called on Zyuganov and Kasyanov to quit the race if the Kremlin abuses its power to ensure Medvedev's victory or if candidates are denied equal access to national television.

Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister under Boris Yeltsin who was once seen as Yeltsin's political heir, also called on Zyuganov and Kasyanov to demand that Medvedev participate in televised debates with other candidates.

Putin did not participate in debates in the 2004 presidential election, and no United Russia candidates took part in televised debates ahead of the Dec. 2 State Duma elections, in which it grabbed 315 out of 450 Duma seats.

Because Union of Right Forces, or SPS, failed to win any seats in the Duma, Nemtsov would have been required to collect at least 2 million signatures by Jan. 16 to get on the ballot.

Kasyanov, whose supporters have begun collecting signatures, said Wednesday that he would not quit his presidential bid.

"I don't plan to and am not considering the possibility," Kasyanov said, Interfax reported.

Kasyanov said, however, that if the Kremlin turns the election into a "farce," he would not participate.

Zyuganov said Wednesday that his party could pull him from the race if authorities use "dirty" campaign tactics.

Nemtsov's announcement came just six days after he submitted his registration papers to the Central Elections Commission and just nine days after SPS enthusiastically nominated him.

Asked what happened thereafter to prompt him to quit, Nemtsov abruptly said, "Nothing has changed."

SPS leader Nikita Belykh declined to comment Wednesday when reached by telephone. He wrote on his LiveJournal blog, however, that he supported Nemtsov's decision.

Political analysts Boris Makarenko and Alexei Mukhin said Nemtsov flinched because he understood that he would not be able to collect 2 million signatures.

The Central Elections Commission said it had not received an official request to remove Nemtsov from the list of candidates as of Wednesday afternoon.

 Patriarch Alexy II on Wednesday asked Russians to judge presidential candidates by their deeds, not their words.

Earlier this month, the patriarch publicly expressed his support for Medvedev in the election.