(MENAFN- Gulf Times) Russian President Vladimir Putin announced yesterday that he would run for re-election in 2024, allowing the Kremlin leader to extend his decades-long grip on power into the 2030s.
The 71-year-old has led Russia since the turn of the century, winning four presidential ballots and briefly serving as prime minister.
The announcement came at a set-piece Kremlin event for army personnel, including those who have fought in the military offensive in Ukraine that Putin ordered in February last year.
After pinning the gold star“Hero of Russia” medals on the lapels of soldiers who had fought in Ukraine, some of the men and mothers of the fallen rushed up to one of the best-guarded leaders in the world in the Grand Kremlin Palace.
Artyom Zhoga, a lieutenant colonel born in Soviet-era Ukraine who fights for Russia, asked Putin to run again:“You are our president, we are your team. We need you. Russia needs you.”
Putin thanked him.
“I will not hide that I have had different thoughts at different times but it is now time to make a decision. I will run for the post of president,” Putin said, his muffled words picked up by a microphone nearby and his back to the camera.
Others, including Sapizhat Mazayeva, mother of a fallen soldier decorated as a hero of Russia, told the 71-year-old president and ex-KGB spy that his work needed to be continued.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who has said in recent weeks that he hoped very much Putin would run, said the announcement was spontaneous and denied the scene had been pre-prepared.
“He was asked a question and he answered it. Well, yes, it's completely spontaneous,” Peskov said.“He reacted to the appeals of heroic people, so yes, it was a reaction to the appeal of people.”
The setting of Putin's announcement, surrounded by decorated soldiers and mothers of fallen soldiers, may be an indication of how he perceives his rule, and some Kremlin watchers said it could give hints about the future of the Ukraine war.
“Putin is going to the polls as a military leader of a country at war,” said Sergei Markov, a former Kremlin adviser.“This is exactly what the choice of the place of Putin's statement says: at the request of officers, heroes of Russia, heroes of the war in Donbas.”
Markov said the very fact of agreeing to run at the request of Zhoga, who was born in Donetsk and whose Sparta Battalion fought alongside Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine ahead of the 2022 invasion, indicated that Putin wanted to seize all of the Donbas region.
Russia currently controls just under a fifth of Ukraine, including Crimea which Russia annexed in 2014. But Russian forces do not control Donbas – which consists of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces – in its entirety.
the president will not face any major challengers in his bid for a fifth term and is likely to seek as large a mandate as possible in order to conceal domestic discord over the Ukraine conflict, analysts say.
Rights groups say that previous elections have been marred by irregularities and that independent observers are likely to be barred from monitoring the vote.
In November, Putin tightened media rules on covering the 2024 election, banning some independent media outlets from accessing polling stations.
The election will be held over a three-day period from March 15-17, a move that Kremlin critics have argued makes guaranteeing transparency more difficult.
Putin's decision to run came as no surprise to Russians.
Asked by AFP, most people on the snowy streets of Moscow declined to give their view, and those who spoke were cautious and backed him.
Zoya Fedina, 68, took a deep breath before saying:“Well, it's probably not the worst option.”
A retired mathematician, she said she remembered the tough post-Soviet 1990s and said:“That's why I think, let it be Putin.”
Vyacheslav Borisov, a 49-year-old customs officer, said he would vote for Putin.
“Even though many citizens of my country are against the special military operation (in Ukraine), I think it was done correctly,” he said.“If you look at history, you can see the West has for many years acted against us.”
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