Russia’s upper house of parliament on Thursday set March 17, 2024 as the date for the next presidential election, in which longtime President Vladimir Putin is widely expected to run again.
In a meeting televised live, the senators unanimously approved the date in a decision that “practically kicks off the presidential campaign”, according to the head of the chamber, Valentina Matvienko.
Putin, who has been in power in Russia either as president or prime minister since 2000, has not officially announced if he will stand in the vote, but is widely expected to do so.
The election will take place two years after Russia launched what it calls a special military operation in Ukraine in February 2022 and later annexed the Ukrainian regions of Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.
The election “will be a sort of culmination of reunification” for the regions, Matvienko said.
Having established tight control over Russia’s political system, Putin’s victory is all but assured if he runs.
Prominent critics who could challenge him on the ballot are either in jail or living abroad, and most independent media have been banned.
Neither the costly, drawn-out military campaign in Ukraine that began in February 2022, nor a failed rebellion in June by mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin appear to have affected his high approval ratings reported by independent pollsters.
The March election will likely clear the way for him to remain in power at least until 2030. And if he contests and wins another election after that, he could rule until the age of 83.
Who would challenge him on the ballot remains unclear.