Vladimir Putin says he'll run for re-election. Nobody is surprised.
MOSCOW - Russian President Vladimir Putin, he of the perennial 80 percent approval ratings, declared his intention Wednesday, Dec. 6, to run for re-election in March, essentially guaranteeing a new six-year term for the Kremlin leader.
"I will nominate my candidacy for the post of the president of the Russian Federation," Putin said at a rally and a concert at the Gorky automobile plant in the Volga River city of Nizhny Novgorod. "Perhaps there is no better place and better reason for announcing this. I'm sure that it will all work out well for us."
It is a vote that can have only one outcome. Although 30 others have declared their candidacy, there was little doubt that the man Russians call Person No. 1 would run and that the Kremlin's political machine would not allow an upset.
Shortly after Putin's announcement, Russia's main pro-government political party, United Russia, announced its intention to support his re-election campaign.
Until Wednesday, Putin had quietly remained above the fray, portraying himself as a leader and servant of the state rather than a political hopeful.
Socialite and television host Ksenia Sobchak, the daughter of the St. Petersburg mayor who had employed Putin in the 1990s, has gained a lot of headlines with her campaign as a "candidate against everyone."
Anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny has been campaigning for months, although a criminal conviction that he says was politically motivated disqualifies him from running.
"He wants to be in power for 21 years," Navalny tweeted Wednesday, referring to Putin. "In my opinion that's a bit much. I suggest that you disagree with him."
Putin has been the de facto leader of Russia since Boris Yeltsin's resignation on New Year's Eve 1999. Putin stepped down from the presidency only when obligated by the constitution's limit of two consecutive terms as the chief executive. Putin served as prime minister between his second and third terms as president, from 2008 until 2012, and has led Russia for 18 years.
The only post-imperial Kremlin leader who served a longer term was Joseph Stalin, who ruled the Soviet Union for 29 years.
Russian news agencies have reported that the Kremlin has tasked itself with keeping both Putin's share of the vote and the country's turnout at 70 percent, a "70-70 plan."
The Kremlin is concerned about falling interest in elections among young people, who in the past year have re-emerged on the political landscape through unpermitted street protests bolstered by high school and college-age students angry at the lack of political freedoms and reforms in the country.
A recent poll by the independent Levada Center found that 58 percent of Russians would vote if the election were held now, and 53 percent said they would vote for Putin.