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Monday, March 4, 2024

Putin to seek another presidential term in Russia

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Vladimir Putin has moved to prolong his repressive and unyielding grip on Russia for another six years, state media said, announcing his candidacy in the 2024 presidential election that he is all but certain to win.

Mr Putin still commands wide support after nearly a quarter-century in power, despite starting an immensely costly war in Ukraine that has taken thousands of his countrymen’s lives, provoked repeated attacks inside Russia – including one on the Kremlin itself – and corroded its aura of invincibility.

A short-lived rebellion in June by mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin raised speculation that Mr Putin could be losing his grip or that it would mar his strongman image.

But he has emerged with no permanent scars, and Mr Prigozhin’s death in a mysterious plane crash two months later reinforced the view that Mr Putin was in absolute control.

Mr Putin announced his decision to run in the March 17 presidential election after a Kremlin award ceremony, when war veterans and others pleaded with him to seek re-election.

“I won’t hide it from you — I had various thoughts about it over time, but now, you’re right, it’s necessary to make a decision,” Mr Putin said in a video released by the Kremlin after the event.

“I will run for president of the Russian Federation.”

Mr Putin announced his decision after a Kremlin awards ceremony where war veterans were said to have pleaded with him to seek re-election

Tatiana Stanovaya of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Centre noted that the announcement was made in a low-key way instead of a live televised speech, probably reflecting the Kremlin’s spin effort to emphasise Mr Putin’s modesty and his perceived focus on doing his job as opposed to loud campaigning.

“It’s not about prosperity, it’s about survival,” Ms Stanovaya observed. “The stakes have been raised to the maximum.”

About 80% of the populace approves of his performance, according to the independent pollster Levada Centre.

That support might come from the heart or it might reflect submission to a leader whose crackdown on any opposition has made even relatively mild criticism perilous.

Whether due to real or coerced support, Mr Putin is expected to face only token opposition on the ballot for the March 17 2024 election.

Mr Putin, 71, has twice used his leverage to amend the constitution so he could theoretically stay in power until he is in his mid-80s.

He already is the longest-serving Kremlin leader since Josef Stalin.

The death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner Group private military contractor, in a mysterious plane crash reinforced the view that Putin was in absolute contro

In 2008, when he stepped aside to become prime minister due to term limits but remained Russia’s driving force, presidential terms were extended to six years from four.

Another package of amendments he pushed through three years ago reset the count for two consecutive terms to begin in 2024.

Dmitry Oreshkin, a political analyst and professor at Free University of Riga, Latvia, told The Associated Press earlier this year: “He is afraid to give up power.”

At the time of the amendments that allowed him two more terms, Mr Putin’s concern about losing power may have been elevated as Levada polling showed his approval rating significantly lower, hovering around 60%.

In the view of some analysts, that dip in popularity could have been a main driver of the war that Putin launched in Ukraine in February 2022.

Commentator Abbas Gallyamov, a former Putin speechwriter now living in Israel, said: “This conflict with Ukraine was necessary as a glue. He needed to consolidate his power.”

Brookings Institution scholar Fiona Hill, a former US National Security Council expert on Russian affairs, agrees that Mr Putin thought “a lovely small, small victorious war” would consolidate support for his re-election.

“Ukraine would capitulate,” she told AP this year. “He’d install a new president in Ukraine. He would declare himself the president of a new union of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia over the course of the time leading up to the 2024 election. He’d be the supreme leader.”

The war did not turn out that way.

It devolved into a gruelling slog in which neither side made significant headway and posed severe challenges to the rising prosperity integral to Mr Putin’s popularity and Russians’ propensity to set aside concerns about corrupt politics and shrinking tolerance of dissent.

For the first time, voting in the presidential election will take place over three days from March 15 to 17 2024, including in four regions of Ukraine partially and illegally annexed by Russia.

The election commission argued that the practice of multi-day voting, used in other elections since the Covid-19 pandemic, is more convenient for voters.

Mr Putin’s rule has spanned five US presidencies, from Bill Clinton to Joe Biden.

He became acting president on New Year’s Eve in 1999 when Boris Yeltsin unexpectedly resigned. He was elected to his first term in March 2000.

Although Mr Putin has long abandoned the macho photo shoots of bear hunting and scuba diving that once amused and impressed the world, he shows little sign of slowing down.

Photos from 2022 of him with a bloated face and a hunched posture led to speculation he was seriously ill, but he seems little changed in recent public appearances.

“He’s a wartime president, is mobilising the population behind him,” Ms Hill said. “And that will be the message around the 2024 election, depending on where things are in the battlefield.”

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