MOSCOW (Reuters) – Vladimir Putin has decided to run in March’s presidential election, a move that will keep him in power until at least 2030, as the Kremlin chief feels he must guide Russia through the most dangerous period in history. decades, six sources told Reuters.
After defusing an armed mutiny by mercenary group leader Wagner in June, Putin has moved to shore up support among his core base in the security forces, the armed forces and among regional voters outside Moscow, while Wagner has been firmly subdued. .
Russian spending on defense, weapons and the general budget has skyrocketed, while Putin has made numerous public appearances, including in the regions, in recent months.
“The decision has been made: it will be presented,” said one of the sources familiar with the planning.
Another source, also familiar with the Kremlin’s thinking, confirmed that a decision has been made and that Putin’s advisers are preparing for his participation. Three other sources said a decision had been made to run in the March 2024 presidential election.
The sources spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of Kremlin policy.
One of them said a choreographed track would arrive within weeks, confirming a Kommersant newspaper report last month.
While many diplomats, spies and officials have said they expect Putin to remain in power for life, there has so far been no specific confirmation of Putin’s plans to run for re-election.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin had not yet commented on the issue, adding: “The campaign has not been officially announced yet.”
RUSSIA AT WAR
Putin, 71, who was handed the presidency by Boris Yeltsin on the last day of 1999, has already served as president longer than any other Russian ruler since Josef Stalin, surpassing even Leonid Brezhnev’s 18-year rule.
Diplomats say there is no serious challenger who could threaten Putin’s chances at the polls, should the incumbent run again. The former KGB spy enjoys approval ratings of 80%, can count on the support of the state and state media, and there is almost no widespread public opposition to his continuation in government.
But Putin faces the most serious set of challenges of any Kremlin chief since Mikhail Gorbachev took on the crumbling Soviet Union more than three decades ago.
The war in Ukraine has triggered the biggest confrontation with the West since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, and the resulting Western sanctions have delivered the biggest external shock to the Russian economy in decades.
Inflation has accelerated while the ruble has fallen since the war began, and defense spending will account for almost a third of Russia’s total budget spending in 2024, draft government plans show.
But the biggest direct threat to the continuity of Putin’s rule came in June, when Russia’s most powerful mercenary, Yevgeny Prigozhin, led a short-lived mutiny.
Prigozhin died in a plane crash two months after the mutiny, and Putin has since used the Defense Ministry and the National Guard to extend his allies’ control over the remnants of the Wagner force.
The West portrays Putin as a war criminal and dictator who has led Russia into an imperial-style land grab that has weakened Russia and forged a Ukrainian state, while uniting the West and giving NATO renewed meaning. of mission.
Putin, however, presents the war as part of a much broader fight with the United States that, according to the Kremlin elite, aims to divide Russia, seize its vast natural resources and then settle scores with China.
“Russia faces the combined power of the West, so a major change would not be advisable,” one of the sources said.
For some Russians, however, the war has shown the failings of post-Soviet Russia.
Jailed Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny says Putin has led Russia down a strategic dead end toward ruin, building a fragile system of corrupt sycophants that will ultimately bequeath chaos rather than stability.
“Russia is going backwards,” Oleg Orlov, one of Russia’s most respected human rights activists, told Reuters in July. “We abandoned communist totalitarianism but now we have returned to a different kind of totalitarianism.”
Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Jon Boyle
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