Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced that he is running for re-election on March 17, which will likely see him secure a fifth term in office.
Putin, 71, announced his decision after a Kremlin award ceremony after which war veterans and others reportedly pleaded with him to run.
With a firm grip on power already, Putin is widely expected to win another six-year term in office, although a change to the country’s constitution will allow him to run again in 2030, which could see his authority extend to 2036. He secured 76% of the vote in the 2018 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,” Putin said in a video released by the Kremlin after the event.
“I will run for president of the Russian Federation.”
The announcement was low-key, with analysts saying the reason was to purvey Putin’s modesty and his perceived focus on doing his job as opposed to loud campaigning.
The former intelligence officer remains hugely popular in Russia. His support spiked with the onset of the war against Ukraine, and he currently has an approval rating of 82%, according to Statista, a global data platform. A failed rebellion last summer by mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin also did not damage his approval ratings.
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.
Voting will take place over three days, the three-day window was first used during the COVID-19 pandemic with officials saying it is more convenient for voters.
Extensions to the national voting window have been criticized as a risk to election integrity, necessitating ballots being kept safe overnight and complicating the jobs of poll watchers.
Voting will also be open to four regions of Ukraine partially and illegally annexed by Russia.
It is unclear who will challenge Putin at the ballot box, although some people have already signaled that they will put their names forward.
Igor Girkin, who led pro-Russia fighters in eastern Ukraine in 2014, recently said that he wants to challenge Putin. Girkin is an outspoken pro-war blogger who has fiercely criticized Russia’s military strategy in Ukraine and is currently in jail awaiting trial for extremism, which he denies.
Others who have announced plans to run include former lawmaker Boris Nadezhdin, who holds a seat on a municipal council in the Moscow region, and Yekaterina Duntsova, a journalist and lawyer from the Tver region north of Moscow, who once was a member of a local legislature.
Imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny last week urged his supporters to vote for anyone but Putin.
“Putin views this election as a referendum on approval of his actions,” Navalny said in an online statement.
“A referendum on approval of the war. Let’s disrupt his plans and make it happen so that no one on March 17 is interested in the rigged result, but that all of Russia saw and understood: the will of the majority is that Putin must leave.”
Putin has held continuous positions as president or prime minister since 1999. He has been president since 2012, with his previous stint as president running from 2000 to 2008.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.