It was elaborately staged precisely to try and look unstaged. After a medals ceremony at the Kremlin for Heroes of the Fatherland day, Vladimir Putin joined an oh-so-unchoreographed gaggle of participants. One, Lt Colonel Artem Zhoga, appealed for him to stand for re-election. Although Putin admitted he had had second thoughts, he accepted ‘that there is no other way,’ and would indeed be running. This is, it is fair to say, not much of a surprise. Nor will it be a surprise if Putin wins in March. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be upsets along the way.
There was some sense that Putin may have been toying with stepping down in 2021, even though in a system like Russia’s, where law takes second place to politics, that is always a leap of faith, as it means putting your future and maybe even freedom in the hands of your successor. Ask Kazakhstan’s long-time autocrat, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who thought he had this sorted by hand-picking his successor and giving himself the key job of chair of the powerful Security Council for life – until his crony turned on him and he was forced ‘voluntarily’ to give up his position and be sidelined.
Ever since the invasion of Ukraine, though, there was no way Putin could risk stepping down, so the only question was when and how he was going to announce his run. Instead of staging a glitzy event for the announcement – he didn’t have to, when the full panoply of state-controlled media would blast the news to every corner – he took this approach with two goals in mind.
First of all, Putin is trying to present himself not simply as the people’s choice, but their servant.