Moscow: Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday he would decide very soon whether to run for re-election next year, something he is widely expected to do and comfortably win.
Putin, 65, has been in power, either as president or prime minister, since 2000. If, as expected, he contests and wins what would be a fourth presidential term in March, he would be eligible to serve another six years until 2024.
In a glitzy event in Moscow attended by young people, a host asked Putin if he would be running for re-election in March.
The Russian leader, who polls regularly show enjoys a popularity rating of around 80 per cent, asked the audience if they supported him running in the elections. “Yes,” the audience shouted back, applauding him loudly.
“I understand that this decision must be taken in the near future and it will be taken in the near future,” Putin told the audience.
“And when taking it I will of course take into account our conversation today and your reaction.”
Not taking the bait
In a carefully-staged appearance Wednesday at an event in Moscow to celebrate volunteer work, Putin was asked directly by the presenter if he was ready to declare his candidacy for the presidential election in March, setting him up to go public with what’s already an open secret. To the host’s visible surprise, Putin didn’t take the bait.
“My question to you is: If I take such a decision then will you and people like you support this decision,” the Russian leader replied. With suspense building as the audience cheered and chanted their support, Putin said simply: “This decision will be taken soon and when I do I’ll keep in mind this conversation and your response.”
The dud announcement came a day after veteran Kremlin reporter, Andrei Kolesnikov, a favourite journalist of Putin, dropped a strong hint on social media that the president would take the plunge and officially declare his intention to seek re-election.
Putin, 65, is widely expected to seek a new mandate to extend his 18 years in power for what would likely be his final term under Russia’s constitution. The Kremlin’s been delaying the announcement to minimise distraction from an election campaign whose outcome isn’t in doubt.