Putin to seek re-elec­tion as Rus­sian pres­i­dent in March

Leader whose ap­proval rat­ings top 80% has ef­fec­tively been in power since 2000 Elec­tion to be held on day Rus­sia marks an­nex­a­tion of Crimea from Ukraine

The Irish Times - - World News - IS­ABEL GORST in Moscow

Vladimir Putin de­clared yes­ter­day that he is to seek a fourth term as Rus­sia’s pres­i­dent in an elec­tion next March.

Mr Putin re­vealed his long-awaited elec­tion plans dur­ing a visit to Rus­sia’s flag­ship GAZ au­to­mo­bile plant in Nizhny Nov­gorod, a city 420km east of Moscow, where work­ers were cel­e­brat­ing the 85th an­niver­sary of the start of pro­duc­tion.

“I will put for­ward my can­di­dacy for the post of pres­i­dent of the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion. “There is prob­a­bly no bet­ter place or rea­son for an an­nounce­ment of this sort,” he said.

The an­nounce­ment was met with ju­bi­la­tion as work­ers be­gan chant­ing “GAZ is for you!”

Few in Rus­sia had any doubts that Mr Putin would stand for re-elec­tion, but the Krem­lin has been keep­ing peo­ple guess­ing about the pres­i­dent’s fu­ture plans.

The tim­ing of the an­nounce­ment ap­peared de­signed to de­flect at­ten­tion from the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Committee’s de­ci­sion this week to bar Rus­sia from the 2018 Win­ter Games over dop­ing charges.

Rus­sia de­nies IOC charges that it en­gaged in a state-spon­sored dop­ing cam­paign aimed at en­hanc­ing the per­for­mance of its ath­letes at the Win­ter Games in Sochi in 2014.

Mr Putin com­plained yes­ter­day that the IOC’s rul­ing was un­fair, but said that Rus­sia would not re­tal­i­ate by boy­cotting the Win­ter Games in Pyeong-Chang, South Korea next Fe­bru­ary. Rus­sian ath­letes were free to com­pete as neu­tral can­di­dates if they wished, he said.

Global power

Mr Putin has been in power, ei­ther as pres­i­dent or prime min­is­ter, since 2000 when Boris Yeltsin re­tired and named the for­mer KGB of­fi­cer his anointed suc­ces­sor. If he wins a fresh six-year term in March, Mr Putin will have been de facto leader for 24 years, longer than any other ruler of Rus­sia ex­cept Joseph Stalin.

The elec­tion will be held on March 18th, the day Rus­sia cel­e­brates the an­nex­a­tion from Ukraine in 2014 of Crimea, a land­mark event that while con­demned as il­le­gal in the West, boosted Mr Putin’s already high pop­u­lar­ity rat­ings in Rus­sia above 90 per cent.

Al­though eu­pho­ria about the cap­ture of Crimea has sub­sided some­what, Mr Putin is still ad­mired by many of his coun­try­men as a strong leader who has re­stored some of Rus­sia’s lost stand­ing as a global power. More than 60 per cent of re­spon­dents to a re­cent sur­vey by the in­de­pen­dent Le­vada Cen­tre polling agency said they would vote for Mr Putin in the

‘‘

Alexei Navalny, the only op­po­si­tion leader ca­pa­ble of pre­sent­ing a se­ri­ous chal­lenge to Mr Putin, has been dis­qual­i­fied from the elec­tion race

next pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Alexei Navalny, an anti-cor­rup­tion cam­paigner be­lieved to be the only op­po­si­tion leader ca­pa­ble of pre­sent­ing a se­ri­ous chal­lenge to Mr Putin, has been dis­qual­i­fied from the elec­tion race fol­low­ing a fraud con­vic­tion that he claims was po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated.

Var­i­ous new can­di­dates have come for­ward in re­cent weeks in­clud­ing Kseniya Sobchak, a lib­eral Rus­sian so­cialite and TV host­ess, and Boris Ti­tov, Rus­sia’s busi­ness om­buds­man, who is rep­re­sent­ing the pro-busi­ness Party of Growth. Ms Sobchak has ad­mit­ted she has no chance of beat­ing Mr Putin. An­nounc­ing his plan to run, Mr Ti­tov said Mr Putin was “the guar­an­tor of sta­bil­ity in Rus­sia”.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: ALEXEI NIKOLSKY/SPUT­NIK/KREM­LIN POOL/EPA

Rus­sian pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin at­tends the fo­rum of Rus­sian vol­un­teers in Moscow.

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