(Bloomberg) -- Veteran Russian pro-democracy politician Grigory Yavlinsky is mounting what may be his last political challenge to Vladimir Putin to try to campaign for peace with Ukraine. 

The three-time candidate is weighing another presidential election run against Putin. After receiving around 1% of the vote in the last election in 2018, he’s under no illusions about the outcome this time.

“I can tell you the results today – 75% turnout. 78% vote for Putin,” Yavlinsky said in an online interview from Moscow.

The upper house of Russia’s parliament on Thursday set March 17 as the date of the presidential election. Putin is widely expected to declare his candidacy for a fifth term, with officials determined to deliver a landslide victory that the Kremlin can portray as public endorsement of Russia’s war in Ukraine. With his opponents nearly all in jail or in exile, and public criticism of the war turned into a criminal offense, voices like Yavlinsky’s exist on the margins of political discussion.

The founder of the democratic Yabloko party said he held “a very serious conversation” with Putin lasting one-and-a-half hours on Oct. 26, their first talks in more than two years. Yavlinsky, 71, said he raised the need for a cease-fire and peace talks with the president though “there were no conclusions.”

Putin is suffering from “Versailles syndrome” over the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization toward Russia’s borders since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Yavlinsky said, a reference to German resentment at World War I reparations that paved the way for Adolf Hitler’s rise. 

Still, Yavlinsky directed his main message to the US and its allies, urging them to seek talks on ending Europe’s worst conflict since World War II, with Ukraine struggling to oust Russian forces from occupied territory after a stalemate that’s persisted for the past year. “This is about safeguarding 80% of Ukrainian territory” that Kyiv controls today, he said.

Peace talks “may start within one month, a year or two years, but that moment will come  — it’s inevitable,” he said. “We need to stop people dying. We’re paying a horrific price and Ukraine is being destroyed.”

Putin has given no sign he’s ready to enter negotiations to end the war that he started with the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Amid doubts over the future of US and European military aid for Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas war diverting world attention to the Middle East, the Kremlin regards time as on Putin’s side. 

The government in Kyiv and its US and European allies say the war would end tomorrow if Putin withdrew Russian troops from occupied territory in eastern and southern Ukraine as well as Crimea, which he annexed in 2014. They reject any deal involving territorial concessions that would reward Putin’s aggression.

Last month, NBC reported that US and European officials have spoken to the Ukrainian government about what potential peace negotiations might look like with Russia.

Yavlinsky argued the longer Ukraine and the West wait to engage on a cease-fire and a potential settlement, the worse the terms and human losses and destruction will be. “What price will we pay by then?” he said. “Putin senses he’s got the upper hand.”

While opinion polls show a majority of Russians would back peace talks, overwhelmingly they still support what Russian officials call a “special military operation” in Ukraine.

“If tomorrow Putin says he’s decided to stop, 80% of the population will say ‘Thank God’,” Yavlinsky said. “If he says he has to continue, the same 80% will say ‘Let’s go for it’.”

He first ran for president in 1996, coming fourth with 7.4%. In 2000, he placed third with 5.85% behind Putin and Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov.

Yavlinsky acknowledged “deep despair” among Russia’s dwindling liberal elements, saying they “don’t understand what the future holds” amid the harshest Kremlin crackdown on dissent in decades. “There is no society left in Russia,” he said. 

Seeking to counter accusations his participation in the elections would simply help the Kremlin legitimize Putin’s hold on power, Yavlinsky said he’s seeking endorsement from as many Russians as possible before deciding on his candidacy. He has already collected hundreds of thousands of signatures and is aiming for several million, he said.

“It will be very painful when I take part in the elections and they give me 0.3% and they’ll tell the world that only 0.3% of voters support peace and a cease-fire,” he said. “I can take the risk, but only if I see citizens want this.”

--With assistance from Thomas Hall.

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