President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that he would seek another term as Russia’s leader at an election scheduled for March 17, setting in motion a campaign that is widely expected to result in another victory.
With the war in Ukraine as a backdrop, Putin’s announcement was laden with symbolism.
According to Tass, a Russian state news agency, he made it during a military awards ceremony in the Kremlin, responding to a question posed by Artyom Zhoga, a Russian military officer and official from Donetsk, a city in eastern Ukraine.
“I won’t hide, I had different thoughts in different times,” Putin said. “But now you are right, the time is such when a decision needs to be made,” he said. “I will run for President of Russia.”
It was a long-expected announcement, awaited by observers at least since the Russian Constitution was amended in 2020 to effectively allow Putin to stay in power until 2036. He has led Russia as either President or Prime Minister since 1999.
While there is little doubt about the outcome of the election, the coming vote carries more significance because it is the first presidential election since Putin, 71, ordered the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022.
Nikolay Petrov, an analyst with the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said, “This is not an election, this is the re-election of the same leader.”
“Mr. Putin is essentially competing with himself — with the younger Putin,” Petrov added. “It is important for him to show that he is not in a worse place than he was 25 years ago.”
The invasion of Ukraine was perhaps the most consequential decision Putin had taken for Russia during his 23 years in power. He also ordered an unpopular mobilisation campaign last year, in which hundreds of thousands of men were called up to fight in the war.
So far, the conflict has not figured heavily in Putin’s public appearances in the months running up to the election — a strategy that observers say is intentional.
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.
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.
New York Times News Service and Reuters