Putin tells Russian soldiers he will run for president

President Vladimir Putin has tightened his grip on Russia.

President Vladimir Putin has tightened his grip on Russia. Photo: AP

Russian President Vladimir Putin has told soldiers who had fought in the Ukraine war that he would run for president again in the 2024 election, a move that will allow the former KGB spy to stay in power until at least 2030.

Putin, who was handed the presidency by Boris Yeltsin on the last day of 1999, has already served as president for longer than any other ruler of Russia since Josef Stalin, beating even Leonid Brezhnev’s 18-year tenure.

After Putin awarded the Ukraine war veterans with Russia’s highest military honour, the Hero of Russia gold star, Artyom Zhoga, a lieutenant colonel born in Soviet-era Ukraine who fights for Russia, asked the president to run again.

“I will not hide that I have had different thoughts at different times but it is now time to make a decision,” Putin told Zhoga and the other decorated soldiers.

“I understand that there is no other way.”

“I will run for the post of president,” Putin was shown in television footage saying in the gilded Georgievsky Hall, part of the Grand Kremlin Palace.

Zhoga told reporters afterwards that he was very glad Putin had assented to the request, adding that all of Russia would support the decision.

For Putin, 71, the election is a formality: with the support of the state, the state-run media and almost no mainstream public dissent, he is certain to win.

He has no discernible successor.

Opposition politicians cast the election as a fig leaf of democracy that adorns what they see as the corrupt dictatorship of Putin’s Russia.

A handful of other unthreatening candidates will be put up to run against Putin and lose as usual, they say, in what has become a carefully stage-managed imitation of democracy.

A years-long crackdown on opponents and critics bolstered by sweeping new laws on “fake news” and “discrediting the army” has resulted in critics being handed long jail terms or fleeing abroad as the room for dissent has steadily shrunk.

Supporters of Putin dismiss that analysis, pointing to some independent polling that shows he enjoys approval ratings of above 80 per cent.

They say that Putin has restored order and some of the clout Russia lost during the chaos of the Soviet collapse.

While Putin may face no real competition in the election, he is confronted with the most serious set of challenges any Kremlin chief has faced since Mikhail Gorbachev grappled with the crumbling Soviet Union more than three decades ago.

The war in Ukraine triggered the biggest confrontation with the United States since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis; foreign sanctions have delivered the biggest external shock to the Russian economy for decades; and Putin faced a failed mutiny by Russia’s most powerful mercenary, Yevgeny Prigozhin, in June.

Prigozhin was killed in a plane crash two months to the day after the mutiny.

Since the mutiny, Putin has tightened his control.

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