MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin, he of the perennial 80 percent approval ratings, declared his intention Wednesday to run for reelection, 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 (GAZ) 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 ahead of the March election, 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 reelection 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’s years as president. “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 resigned 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 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 reemerged on the political landscape through unpermitted street protests bolstered by high school and college-age students angry about the lack of political freedom and reforms in the country.
Putin could have made the announcement Wednesday as he spoke to hundreds of young people at a forum about volunteers. But he punted when asked whether he was running.
He chose, instead, to make the announcement at one of Russia’s industrial giants, speaking to stoic automakers during GAZ’s 85th anniversary. Workers, particularly in the automotive industry, have been pummeled by Russia’s economic trouble over the past three years.
The scene at the automobile plant seemed staged, as a foreman appealed to Putin to “give us a gift” by announcing his candidacy. “GAZ is for you!” the workers yelled. The automaker employs more than 25,000 people and is owned by Oleg Deripaska, one of Russia’s richest men.