Moscow, (AFP/APP): President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said he would seek a new six-year term in March elections, a move that would make him the longest-serving Russian leader since Joseph Stalin.
Putin, who has run Russia both as president and prime minister 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 the GAZ car factory in Nizhny Novgorod, 400 kilometres (250 miles) east of Moscow.
He made the widely-expected announcement surrounded by cheering workers, who had prodded him to
say whether he would seek a fourth presidential term in a carefully-choreographed ceremony.
“There is perhaps no better place and better excuse to announce this,” Putin said. “Russia will go only forward. And no-one will ever stop her.”
Predictably, Russian politicians praised the announcement. But top Putin critic Alexei Navalny, who has declared a Kremlin bid despite not being allowed to run due to a suspended sentence for fraud, called the president a “swindler.”
“I suggest we don’t agree,” Navalny, a 41-year-old Western-educated lawyer, said on Twitter, referring to Putin’s plans.
Social networks were abuzz, with many ridiculing the Kremlin strongman and some comparing him to
Robert Mugabe, the ousted leader of Zimbabwe.
“Vladimir Vladimirovich has decided to play the old Russian game dubbed ‘Out of the Kremlin feet first,'” said one critic, Aleksandr Kommari, on Facebook.
Muscovite Kirill Goncharov said he went to school and graduated from the university under Putin. “Time — the most important thing every person has — will be wasted on Vladimir Putin realising his personal ambitions,” he said on Facebook.
Putin’s statement 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 problems including corruption, poverty and poor healthcare, the 65-year-old leader enjoys approval ratings of 80 percent.