Vladimir Putin on Friday moved to prolong his repressive and unyielding grip on Russia for at least another six years, announcing his candidacy in the presidential election next March that he is all but certain to win, according to state media reports.
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 widespread speculation that Putin could be losing his grip, but he emerged from it with no permanent scars, and Prigozhin’s death in a mysterious plane crash two months later reinforced the view that Putin was in absolute control.
Putin announced his decision to run in the March 17 presidential election during a Kremlin award ceremony, according to Tass and RIA Novosti state news agencies.
About 80% of the populace approves of his performance, according to the independent pollster Levada Center. 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, Putin is expected to face only token opposition on the ballot.
Putin, 71, has twice used his leverage to amend the constitution so he could theoretically stay in power until he’s in his mid-80s. He already is the longest-serving Kremlin leader since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
In 2008, he stepped aside to become prime minister due to term limits but remained Russia’s driving force. Presidential terms were then extended to six years from four, while another package of amendments he pushed through three years ago reset the count for two consecutive terms to begin in 2024.
“He is afraid to give up power,” Dmitry Oreshkin, a political analyst and professor at Free University of Riga, Latvia, told The Associated Press this year.
At the time of the amendments that allowed him two more terms, Putin’s concern about losing power may have been elevated: 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.
“This conflict with Ukraine was necessary as a glue. He needed to consolidate his power,” said commentator Abbas Gallyamov, a former Putin speechwriter now living in Israel.