In the Thick of It

A blog on the U.S.-Russia relationship
Putin Dec 8

From 'Impossible to Imagine Anyone Else in the Kremlin' to 'Time to Retire': Russian Perspectives on Putin’s Reelection Plan

December 15, 2023
Mikael Pir-Budagyan and Conor Cunningham

Last week saw Putin make an unsurprising announcement that he plans to run for reelection in March 2024—in a surprising way. Having led the country in one way or another for nearly a quarter century, his decision to retain control sent no shockwaves. What was unexpected was the way he made the announcement—under the auspices of a passing comment during a relatively modest awards ceremony for Russian soldiers who have fought in Ukraine on Dec. 8. Putin has announced his previous reelection bids at such high-profile events as his annual national call-in-show in 2003, and at the ruling United Russia party congress in 2011. Even lower-key announcements, like in 2017 when he announced his plan to seek a fourth presidential term during a concert commemorating the 85th anniversary of the GAZ automobile plant, have involved some degree of fanfare. According to Meduza, citing sources close to the Kremlin, Putin had until recently planned to announce his latest reelection bid during his annual call-in show on Dec. 14, but reversed course with his off-the-cuff Dec. 8 remarks in what is believed to have been a spontaneous move. “In theory, it shouldn’t be like this. Announcing candidacy should be done personally and publicly, not on the fly, in a rush. But the president wanted it this way,” an unnamed source told Meduza.

Who Will Putin Be ‘Competing’ Against? 

Though there is no reason to believe the elections would be either free or fair, the Kremlin strives to maintain the appearance of electoral legitimacy, thus ensuring Putin will “run against” other candidates—albeit ones who have no chance of winning. Candidates that the Kremlin has reportedly considered casting in this electoral show reportedly include 60-year-old Boris Nadezhdin, who has been referred to as a “pacificist candidate,” as well as 79-year-old Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov.[1]Meduza has reported that when selecting Putin’s pseudo competitors or “systemic opposition,” Kremlin staffers take care not to consider anyone under 50 for fear of making the 71-year-old Putin look too elderly.[2] In addition to these Kremlin-approved figures, several other individuals have announced their intention to run. Examples include 52-year old Igor "Strelkov" Girkin, an ardent nationalist who previously led Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine, and who now faces extremism charges in Moscow following his detention in July for social media posts critical of Putin. Others are Anatoly Rabinovich, a member of the liberal opposition Yabloko party, as well as journalist Yekaterina Duntsova, a little-known liberal opposition candidate who reportedly champions such democratic ideals as freeing political prisoners and making Russia more “humane,” according to the AP.

The Levada Center, an independent Russian pollster, revealed that as of November 2023, a significant two-thirds majority of Russians were interested in participating in the upcoming elections. Among those who have already decided on their preferred candidate, 85% named Putin. Zyuganov followed in second place with 7% support. At the same time, approximately one-third of respondents expressed reluctance or hesitation to cast their votes during the Mar. 15-17 elections, which are slated to become the first presidential elections in post-Soviet Russia’s history to span three days rather than just one.

How Much Longer Will Putin Remain in Power?

If Putin wins the Mar. 15-17 elections, the likelihood of which there is little doubt, he will be set to serve through the spring of 2030. That would entail him having served as leader of Russia for longer than Josef Stalin, who ruled the Soviet Union for 29 years. If he runs in 2030 and wins again, he will be poised to serve another six years, through the spring of 2036 when he would be 84 years old. Russia’s constitution does limit the presidency to two six-year terms; but Putin’s de-facto control over all the three branches of federal power enables him to revise this document to his liking, per his ally Dmitry Medvedev’s recent promise, as he has done in the past. (2020 revisions to the constitution, for instance, are the reason presidents are now able to serve two six-year terms, not counting previous presidencies).  

Mixed Reactions to Putin’s Reelection Bid

Within hours of the announcement, Russian officials had already begun to heap praise on Putin’s reelection plans. Vyacheslav Volodin, the chairman of the State Duma, emphasized that “Putin’s victory in the elections is a triumph for the citizens of our country.” Valentina Matviyenko, chairwoman of the Federation Council, expressed confidence that Putin’s decision was based on “a genuine request from the Russian people.” And Medvedev deemed Putin’s candidacy “absolutely logical and correct” given the “dramatic period” Russia is currently navigating. Several governors, including those who lead regions along the Ukrainian border, voiced strong support for Putin’s reelection plans. 

In contrast, Putin’s detractors were quick to slam his renewed presidential plans. Imprisoned former presidential hopeful Alexey Navalny did not even wait for Putin’s official announcement regarding his reelection plans. On Dec. 7, he called on the public to “come to the polling stations [in 2024] and vote against … Putin … by [checking the box by] any other candidate.” The Other Russia of E.V. Limonov, an unregistered National Bolshevik party, proclaimed the news “the death of elections as a political institution in Russia.”  

Below, you will find our efforts to catalog a cross-section of these reactions with entries in each subsection organized alphabetically. 

Russian officials:

  • Sergey Aksyonov, head of the Republic of Crimea (recognized my Moscow as a Russian territory; recognized internationally as a territory of Ukraine): Today … Putin announced that he plans to take part in the upcoming presidential election. I fully support this decision. Under the leadership of Vladimir Vladimirovich, Russia has come a long way, revived and regained its status as a great world power. And today our country is successfully developing, despite the colossal external pressure, confidently moving towards the implementation of the goals of the [Special Military Operation]. It is impossible to imagine Russia with another Leader. Only he, by virtue of his qualities, can bring everything he has begun to the end, to our complete Victory. (Aksyonov Z 82/Telegram, 12.08.23)
  • Yevgeny Balitsky, head of the Kremlin-installed administration of the Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region: Putin confirmed his intention to run for a new presidential term, which for us, the residents of the Zaporizhzhia region, is a guarantor of stability, development and security. (Balitsky Yevgeny/Telegram, 12.08.23)
  • Aleksandr Beglov, governor of St. Petersburg: Today … Putin in the Kremlin informed … about his plans to run for a new presidential term. This is long-awaited news for St. Petersburg, the hometown of our President. We are proud to work in his team. (Aleksandr Beglov/Telegram, 12.08.23)
  • Vyacheslav Gladkov, head of the Belgorod region: Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin announced his nomination for President of the Russian Federation. The Belgorod Region is in the same ranks with our President! Only forward! Only to Victory! (Nastoyashchiy Gladkov/Telegram, 12.08.23)
  • Vasily Golubev, head of the Rostov region: I am sure that the President’s decision to be elected for a new term will be widely supported by all residents of the Don. All the key projects and successes of the Don region became possible with the participation and support of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. (Vasily Golubev/Telegram, 12.08.23)
  • Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the Chechen Republic: On behalf of the entire Chechen people and on my own behalf, I reiterate that we sincerely welcome the decision of Russian President Vladimir Putin to run for another term. (Kadyrov_95/Telegram, 12.09.23)
  • Valentina Matviyenko, chairwoman of the Federation Council: Our President has never avoided and does not avoid responsible decisions. And today he confirmed it once again. [He] confirmed that at the moment of a historic choice and a historic challenge, [he] is ready to act based on the interests of the country and its citizens. I am sure that Vladimir Vladimirovich made his statement based primarily on the real request of the Russians, taking into account their will and mood. (Valentina Matviyenko/Telegram, 12.08.23)
  • Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of the Security Council of Russia: The President has already said everything. Taking into account the current situation, the dramatic period that our country is going through, this decision is absolutely logical and correct. His work as president must continue. (TASS, 12.08.23)
  • Sergey Melikov, head of the Dagestan Republic: This news was awaited and very warmly received in Dagestan, where the president has been treated in a special way for many years – with faith and love. (Sergey Melikov/Telegram, 12.08.23) 
  • Sergey Menyaylo, head of the Republic of North Ossetia: Vladimir Vladimirovich announced his candidacy for the election of the President of Russia. This decision is the only right one now. (Sergey Menyaylo/Telegram, 12.08.23)
  • Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press secretary (in reference to Putin’s decision to announce reelection bid during a Kremlin ceremony on Dec. 8): Yes, it’s a completely spontaneous [decision]. On the other hand, he [Putin] reacted to the appeal of heroes, so it was a reaction to the appeal of the people. (TASS, 12.08.23)
  • Denis Pushilin, head of the Donetsk People’s Republic (internationally recognized territory of Ukraine): For Donbas, the President of Russia is the leader who returned the Motherland to us. This is the leader who saved Donbas from destruction. There is no family in the Donetsk People’s Republic that does not appreciate what President Vladimir Putin has done and is doing for us! (Pushilin D.V./ Telegram, 12.14.23)
  • Sergey Sobyanin, mayor of Moscow: Under … Putin, Russia has come a long way towards independence. Our President has a clear idea of the present and future of the country. He makes decisions and is responsible for them. These are all qualities of a true leader. Therefore, I fully support his decision to run for another term and wish him victory in the elections. (Mayor of Moscow Sergey Sobyanin/Telegram, 12.08.23)
  • Andrey Turchak, senator from the Pskov Region: The decision of our Leader, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, to participate in the presidential campaign and his massive support in the elections will be our common Victory. For the President! For Great Russia! (Andrey Turchak Z/Telegram, 12.08.23)
  • Vyacheslav Volodin, chairman of the State Duma: Over time, Putin has proven his effectiveness. Our country has faced various challenges at different stages, but it is thanks to him that it has successfully overcome them, whether it is the financial crisis, sanctions or the war unleashed against Russia. In addition, [Putin] has unique qualities, such as humanity, decency, kindness, but also, of course, an amazing ability to work. Today’s decision shows his love for his country, his desire to make it strong and prosperous, and to protect Russia in this difficult time of challenges and threats. Putin’s victory in the elections is a victory for the citizens of our country, a victory for Russia. (Vyacheslav Volodin/Telegram, 12.08.23)

Russian opposition figures

  • Dmitry Bykov, Russian writer and a journalist: A shameful story of the plea for a child murderer to reign. (Alexandr Plushev/YouTube, 12.10.23)
  • Mikhail Fishman, Russian journalist: Putin announced he will run for reelection, well, he allowed himself to be persuaded … could not refuse the people. These tyrants are always sympathetic and modest at the same time, because they never think about themselves, but always about the country, about the people. (TV Rain/YouTube, 12.09.23)
  • Abbas Gallyamov, Russian speechwriter and political consultant: The siloviki, led by [secretary of the Security Council Nikolai] Patrushev, tried to dissuade Putin from the idea of participating in the elections. They proposed martial law, an end to “all these games of democracy” and the immediate start of mass mobilization … Putin rejected their proposal. He understands that he needs an injection of fresh legitimacy, because the old one is pretty frayed and faded. (Abbas Gallyamov/Telegram, 12.09.23)
  • Dmitry Gudkov, Russian politician: All opposition forces have already decided on a strategy—to act in one direction, which gives a chance to form a broad coalition. Vote against Putin, and if boycotted, then actively, at least abroad, lining up at polling stations at noon, tearing up ballots or drawing on them what Vladimir Vladimirovich is. Concrete actions are tactics, and the strategy is to show the illegitimacy of the Führer. (Gudkov/Telegram, 12.08.23)
  • Vladimir Kvachkov, pro-war activist and former officer of the Russian military intelligence: People! Are you not disgusted by this show? The very fact of this cheap theatrical performance is also an indicator of the attitude towards us on the part of Putin and his administration. They just despise us! (Polkovnik Kvachkov i soratniki/Telegram,12.09.23)
  • Alexey Navalny, Russian opposition leader: Presidential elections will be held on March 17, 2024. On this day, we call on everyone to come to the polling stations and vote against Vladimir Putin. You can do this by ticking any other candidate. (Navalny/Telegram, 12.07.23)
  • Sergey Parkhomenko, Russian journalist and publisher: Well, they played a cheap show with some “father of a soldier” from Donbas. Did you think what would happen? Without this military rhetoric? Or that they simply instruct Kiriyenko or, for that matter, Zyuganov and Slutsky to nominate the candidacy of comrade Putin? (Sergey Parkhomenko/Facebook, 12.08.23)
  • Vladimir Pastukhov, Russian political scientist: One of [Putin’s] rituals is the people’s lament for indulgence. Like, father, do not leave us orphans … And so it happened: he mumbled and mumbled, but he could not refuse the hero’s father. Why is this good? Because if [the rituals] can be predicted in the small, then there is a chance to learn to predict in the big. So far, everything is according to the template, and they get away with it until life throws up a non-standard task. (Vladimir Pastukhov/Telegram, 12.08.23)
  • Mikhail Polynkov, Russian pro-war military blogger associated with Strelkov: [Artyom] Zhoga [the military officer who asked Putin to run] apparently used to be a military man, but he became an ordinary [Valentina] Tereshkova [Russian cosmonaut who was the nominal face of the 2020 Constitutional reform]. (Soldatskaya Pravda/Telegram, 12.08.23)
  • Lyubov Sobol, Russian politician: Where are you going to vote, grandpa? If there are problems in the country, everywhere you look, even the price of eggs. And how Putin does not like to take responsibility but likes to dump it on others. .... the people of Russia are asking for retirement. (Sobol Lyubov/X, 12.08.23) 
  • Konstantin Sonin, Russian economist: There are no sincere supporters of Putin – apart from crazy grandmothers, has anyone heard of a meeting or rally of Putin's supporters, organized spontaneously, and not by the local administration? So it is not surprising that Putin is “running for a fifth term” from people from another country—from the occupied territories of Ukraine. They, unlike the Russians, love him sincerely. (Konstantin Sonin/Facebook, 12.09.23)
  • Tatiana Stanovaya, Russian political scientist: [He decided to run]. You can exhale... But seriously, it is surprising what intrigue has been created around it. Well, the nomination, of course, is filled with symbols: the heroes, the “fathers of Donbas,” want to see Putin as president again... Putin chose war, war chose Putin. That is, it is not so much about prosperity as it is about survival. The stakes have been raised as high as possible. (Stanovaya Tyaga/Telegram, 12.08.23) 
  • Viktor Shenderovich, member of the Russian opposition, scriptwriter and radio host: Everyone was so worried: if we do not have a father, we will suddenly become orphans … [if] he does not run… We were all very afraid that we would be left alone … without our leader. All of this would be very funny if it were not so disgusting because this filthy comedy has been [playing] for a quarter of a century. We do not change this old horse in the middle of a stream. (Khodorkovsky LIVE/YouTube, 12.12.23)
  • Sergey Udaltsov, Russian left-wing pro-war political activist: In 2036, Putin says, "I thought a lot about this issue and decided to run for president again." But seriously, the long-term [lack of change in leadership], as well as the preservation of an unfair socio-economic course, is extremely dangerous for the country and can end in catastrophic consequences. That is why it is so important for all supporters of change to consolidate in the elections on March 17, 2024, come to the polling stations and vote for a single opposition candidate. (Sergey Udaltsov/Telegram, 12.08.23)
  • Leonid Volkov, Russian politician: Of course, it is impossible to defeat Putin in the “elections” … The goal of our campaign is to change the political agenda in Russia. (VoA, 12.10.23)
  • Ivan Zhdanov, director of the Anti-Corruption Foundation: Putin announced that he would run for a new term. He said this cowardly and quietly from under the snag to Artyom Zhoga. Everything is expectable. He wants to be a tsar for life. Let’s participate in the campaign of Russia without Putin. (Ivan Zhdanov/X, 12.08.23) 

Other Russian influentials

  • Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church: We must … pray for our Fatherland, for our Supreme Commander-in-Chief, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, an Orthodox man who is clearly aware of the enormous responsibility that has been entrusted to him from above. (Russian Orthodox Church, 12.10.23)
  • Pro-war Telegram channel Starshe Eddy: The most important decisions of the Russian ruler, no matter whether it is a tsar or a president, must always be voiced in front of the army. In general, this is a tradition of more than a thousand years of Russian statehood. There was little doubt that Putin would announce his candidacy for the 2024 elections, the whole point is where and to whom this decision was announced. Traditions are important, traditions are needed, they are one of the pillars on which the state rests. I am very glad that we are coming back to them. (Starshe Eddy/Telegram, 12.08.23)

Foreign officials and/or influentials

  • Nikolas Gvosdev, senior fellow in the Eurasia Program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute: The message seems to be that Putin, once re-elected, will start, over this next term, to finalize the composition of the next Russian political generation in time for a transition in 2030. And some of the figures who were in St. George’s Hall on Dec. 8 may become part of that next generation—people associated with the Ukraine operation and Russia’s decoupling from the West. (RM, 12.13.23)
  • Fiona Hill, former Senior Director for Europe and Russia, U.S. National Security Council: Putin knows that there is a desire to end the war, and if he gets a partition through a ceasefire with limited cost to Russia it will boost his popularity ahead of the Russian election, which is coming up. And he’s just declared himself, surprise surprise, as the candidate—the only real candidate—for yet another six-year presidential term. (Politico, 12.12.23)
  • Institute for the Study of War: Putin’s announcement of his presidential bid in a military setting indicates that his campaign may focus on Russia’s war in Ukraine more than ISW previously assessed, although the extent of this focus is unclear at this time. (ISW, 12.08.23)
  • John Kirby, U.S. National Security Council spokesperson: Well, that’s going to be one humdinger of a horse race, isn’t it? That’s all I’ve got to say on that. (The Moscow Times, 12.09.23)

[1] The Communist Party and the Liberal-Democratic Party are expected to announce their candidates following their party congresses on Dec. 19 and 23, respectively. Adding to the mix, the “New People” party, established in 2020, will announce their candidate after the party congress on Dec. 24.

[2] Real opposition to President Putin and his government, is widely considered to be non-existent, given that President Putin’s government control’s the political landscape and suppresses genuine threats to his grip on power. In what is often termed a “managed democracy,” the Kremlin relies on pseudo-opposition, or candidates that pose no serious threat, in order to maintain a semblance of democratic processes.

Mikael Pir-Budagyan and Conor Cunningham are student associates with Russia Matters. Pir-Budagyan is also a graduate student at Georgetown University, and Cunningham is a graduate student at Harvard University.

The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the individuals quoted and the author. Photo shared by the Russian presidential press service (Kremlin.ru) under a CC BY 4.0 license.