Russia's Putin to seek re-election, expected to win comfortably

07 December 2017

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said he would seek a new six-year term in the country's March elections, which if he wins would make him the longest-serving Russian leader since Joseph Stalin.

Putin, who has been in power for the past 18 years, is expected to sail to victory as in the past, with only token opponents competing against him.

"I will offer my candidacy for the post of president of the Russian Federation," he said during a visit to a car factory in Nizhny Novgorod.

He made the widely-expected announcement surrounded by cheering workers, who prodded him to unveil his plans in a carefully-choreographed ceremony.

"There is perhaps no better place and better excuse to announce this," Putin said in a nod to his core constituency.

"Russia will go only forward. And no-one would ever stop her in this direction."

Earlier, the former KGB officer was cagey about announcing a long-expected re-election bid that would extend his rule to 2024.

Asked by a volunteer at an event in Moscow about his future plans, Putin said, "I am always with you."

However he was evasive when prodded by the volunteer to say whether he would run next year.

"There is always a great deal of responsibility involved in this decision for any person, because the motive must be the desire to make life better in this country," he said. "And this can be achieved only with people's trust and support. And now I want to ask, do you trust and support me?"

"Yes!" the audience chanted. And at the car factory, he made it clear that he would indeed stand for another term.

Predictably, a chorus of Russian politicians praised the announcement, while social networks were abuzz, with many ridiculing the Kremlin strongman.

Top Putin critic Alexei Navalny, who has earlier declared a Kremlin bid even although he will not be allowed to run due to a suspended sentence for fraud, called Putin a "swindler".

"I suggest we don't agree," the 41-year-old Western-educated lawyer said on Twitter, referring to Putin's plans to seek a fourth Kremlin term.

Putin's confirmation of the Kremlin bid came as Russia reeled from a decision by the International Olympic Committee to ban the country from the Winter Games as punishment over alleged state-orchestrated doping.

But despite a litany of mounting problems including corruption, poverty and poor healthcare, the 65-year-old leader enjoys approval ratings of some 80 per cent.

Before Putin took the floor prominent figures, including athletes and Soviet-era celebrities such as 83-year-old actor Vasily Lanovoi, took to the stage to extol the country's successes, such as Soviet victory in World War II.

Cosmonaut Sergei Ryazansky addressed the audience via video link from the International Space Station.

Putin has sought to appeal to the country's youth after thousands of young Russians took to the streets earlier this year to protest alleged corruption among the elites, targeting Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev among others.

The demonstrations were sparked by a documentary fronted by Navalny.

Putin, who first became president after Boris Yeltsin sensationally resigned on New Year's Eve 1999, handed power to his ally Medvedev in 2008 at the end of his second term.

Putin served as prime minister - though few doubted who was really in charge - and returned as president in 2012.

If he extends his rule to 2024, Putin will have led Russia longer than Leonid Brezhnev, who presided over an era of stagnation from 1964 to 1982 and became the target of derision in his later years.

With the result of the election already a foregone conclusion, turnout could be low, dealing a blow to the Kremlin' hopes for a decisive new mandate, observers say.

According to a poll conducted by the independent Levada Centre pollster last month, just 58 per cent of respondents said they would take part in the polls, down from 75 per cent in December 2007.

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov stressed this week that those figures came ahead of the start of a political campaign, saying they were set to grow.

Many expect that Kseniya Sobchak, a 36-year-old glamourous former host of a television reality show and daughter of Putin's former mentor, will likely be allowed to run against Putin to rekindle public interest in the dull election.

With the election virtually devoid of any suspense, the question is what will happen after Putin's expected re-election and later, after his new term ends in 2024, analysts say.

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