Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said he would seek a new six-year term in the country's March elections in a move that would make him the longest-serving Russian leader since Joseph Stalin.
Putin, who has been in power for the past 18 years, is expected to sail to victory, with only token opponents competing against him.
“I will offer my candidacy for the post of president of the Russian Federation,” he said at the GAZ factory in Nizhny Novgorod, surrounded by workers. Putin's widely-expected announcement came as Russia reeled from a decision by the International Olympic Committee to ban the country from the Winter Games as punishment over claims of state-orchestrated doping.
But despite a litany of mounting problems including corruption, poverty, and poor healthcare, the 65-year-old leader enjoys approval ratings of some 80 per cent. Just hours earlier Putin had declined to confirm his candidacy at a glitzy event dedicated to volunteers.
“There is always a great deal of responsibility involved in this decision for any person because the motive must be the desire to make life better in this country,” he told an audience of mostly young people. “And this can be achieved only with people's trust and support. And now I want to ask, do you trust and support me?” “Yes!” the audience chanted.
Before Putin took the floor prominent figures, including athletes and Soviet-era celebrities such as 83-year-old actor Vasily Lanovoi, took to the stage to extol the country's successes, such as Soviet victory in World War II.
Cosmonaut Sergei Ryazansky addressed the audience via video link from the International Space Station. Putin has sought to appeal to the country's youth after thousands of young Russians took to the streets earlier this year to protest alleged corruption among the elites, targeting Russain Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev among others.
The demonstrations were sparked by a documentary fronted by top Putin critic Alexei Navalny. Putin, who first became president after Boris Yeltsin sensationally resigned on New Year's Eve 1999, handed power to his ally Medvedev in 2008 at the end of his second term.
Putin served as prime minister — though few doubted who was really in charge — and returned as president in 2012. If he extends his rule to 2024, Putin will have led Russia longer than Leonid Brezhnev, who presided over an era of stagnation from 1964 to 1982.