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Vladimir Putin confirms he will seek 2024 re-election to prolong grip on power in Russia

 (via REUTERS)
(via REUTERS)

Vladimir Putin has moved to prolong his repressive and unyielding grip on Russia for another six years, state media said, announcing his candidacy in the 2024 presidential election.

Mr Putin still commands wide support after nearly a quarter-century in power, despite starting an immensely costly war in Ukraine.

A short-lived rebellion in June by mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin raised speculation that Mr Putin could be losing his grip or that it would mar his strongman image.

But he has emerged with no permanent scars, and Mr Prigozhin's death in a mysterious plane crash two months later reinforced the view that Mr Putin was in absolute control.

Mr Putin announced his decision to run in the March 17 presidential election after a Kremlin award ceremony, when war veterans and others pleaded with him to seek re-election.

"I won't hide it from you - I had various thoughts about it over time, but now, you're right, it's necessary to make a decision," Mr Putin said in a video released by the Kremlin after the event.

"I will run for president of the Russian Federation."

Yevgeny Prigozhin died in a mysterious plane crash (AP)
Yevgeny Prigozhin died in a mysterious plane crash (AP)

Tatiana Stanovaya of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Centre noted that the announcement was made in a low-key way instead of a live televised speech, probably reflecting the Kremlin's spin effort to emphasise Mr Putin's modesty and his perceived focus on doing his job as opposed to loud campaigning.

"It's not about prosperity, it's about survival," Ms Stanovaya observed. "The stakes have been raised to the maximum."

About 80% of the populace approves of his performance, according to the independent pollster Levada Centre.

That support might come from the heart or it might reflect submission to a leader whose crackdown on any opposition has made even relatively mild criticism perilous.

Whether due to real or coerced support, Mr Putin is expected to face only token opposition on the ballot for the March 17 2024 election.

Mr Putin, 71, has twice used his leverage to amend the constitution so he could theoretically stay in power until he is in his mid-80s.

He already is the longest-serving Kremlin leader since Josef Stalin.

In 2008, when he stepped aside to become prime minister due to term limits but remained Russia's driving force, presidential terms were extended to six years from four.

Another package of amendments he pushed through three years ago reset the count for two consecutive terms to begin in 2024.

Dmitry Oreshkin, a political analyst and professor at Free University of Riga, Latvia, told The Associated Press earlier this year: "He is afraid to give up power."

At the time of the amendments that allowed him two more terms, Mr Putin's concern about losing power may have been elevated as Levada polling showed his approval rating significantly lower, hovering around 60%.

In the view of some analysts, that dip in popularity could have been a main driver of the war that Putin launched in Ukraine in February 2022.

Commentator Abbas Gallyamov, a former Putin speechwriter now living in Israel, said: "This conflict with Ukraine was necessary as a glue. He needed to consolidate his power."

Brookings Institution scholar Fiona Hill, a former US National Security Council expert on Russian affairs, agrees that Mr Putin thought "a lovely small, small victorious war" would consolidate support for his re-election.

"Ukraine would capitulate," she told AP this year. "He'd install a new president in Ukraine. He would declare himself the president of a new union of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia over the course of the time leading up to the 2024 election. He'd be the supreme leader."

The war did not turn out that way.

It has devolved into a gruelling slog in which neither side makes significant headway.