In Summary
  • 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 and became the target of derision in his later years.

MOSCOW

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 during a visit to a car factory in Nizhny Novgorod.

He made the widely-expected announcement surrounded by cheering workers, who prodded him to unveil his plans in a carefully-choreographed ceremony.

KREMLIN STRONGMAN

"There is perhaps no better place and better excuse to announce this," Putin said in a nod to his core constituency.

"Russia will go only forward! And no-one would ever stop her in this direction."

Predictably, a chorus of Russian politicians praised the announcement, while social networks were abuzz, with many ridiculing the Kremlin strongman.

Top Putin critic Alexei Navalny, who has earlier declared a Kremlin bid even although he will not be allowed to run due to a suspended sentence for fraud, called Putin a "swindler."

"I suggest we don't agree," the 41-year-old Western-educated lawyer said on Twitter, referring to Putin's plans to seek a fourth Kremlin term.

Putin's confirmation of the Kremlin bid 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 percent.

'DO YOU TRUST ME?'

Just hours earlier Putin visited a glitzy ceremony for volunteers in Moscow where he sought to rouse supporters.

"I want to ask, do you trust and support me?" he addressed the huge audience of mostly young people.

"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.

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