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Russian President Vladimir Putin has surprised no one by announcing his intention to stand for re-election in next year’s presidential election.
Having repeatedly dodged questions in recent weeks about his intentions, he made the announcement at a meeting with workers of the GAZ factory in Nizny Novgorod, to rapturous applause.
Opinion polls show the former KGB-boss is a shoo-in to win a fourth term as president, with his support among voters as high as 70% nationwide.
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The decision this week to ban Russia from taking part in the Winter Olympics “is likely to make support for him even stronger”, says Reuters, “by uniting voters around his message: the world is against us”.
With ties between the Kremlin and the West at their weakest for years, the International Olympic Committee’s decision plays right into Putin’s hands - at least as far as his domestic audience is concerned.
With an iron grip on the country’s state-run media and the absence of any serious presidential challenger, “his toughest task will be to mobilise an electorate showing signs of apathy to ensure a high turnout which in the tightly-controlled limits of the Russian political system is seen to confer legitimacy”, says Reuters.
Putin has been in power, either as president or prime minister, since 2000 and if he wins a fourth term he will be eligible to serve another six years until 2024, making him the longest-serving Russian ruler since Joseph Stalin.
While next year’s result is not in doubt, there are many who question what will happen when Putin’s final term runs out.
By then, he will be 72 and under Russia’s constitution barred from seeking another term as president. In 2008 he faced a similar obstacle but swapped jobs with the Prime Minister, his protege Dmitry Medvedev, for a single term.
His decision in 2012 to stand again for the presidency was met with a unexpected backlash and prompted mass protests and claims he was turning the country into a dictatorship.
Having been in power for over a quarter of a century, analysts say, Putin may decide not to run again in 2024 and instead seek to anoint a successor, while retaining a position of influence.
The problem, says CNBC, is that there is no obvious successor, and “the lack of a clear succession plan, and likely jockeying for position among Russian elites for dominance in the post-Putin era, is becoming the biggest political risk”.
Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a sociologist at the Russian Academy of Sciences who studies the Russian ruling elite, said the real threat for Putin could start once his final term begins in May.
“It will be a dangerous period,” she told Bloomberg. “Putin will turn into a lame duck” and the elite could splinter as opposing camps start coalescing around potential successors.
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