• Associated Press

Russia’s Ruling Party Backs Putin’s Reelection Bid While a Pro-Peace Candidate Clears First Hurdle

Sergey Fadeichev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP
Russian President Vladimir Putin visits the Russia Expo international exhibition and forum at the VDNKh (The Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy) in Moscow, Russia, Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023.

MOSCOW (AP) — Delegates from Russia’s ruling party unanimously backed President Vladimir Putin ‘s bid for reelection at a party conference in Moscow on Sunday, state agencies reported, just a day after the Kremlin leader’s supporters formally nominated him to run in the 2024 presidential election as an independent.

A little-known Russian presidential hopeful who calls for peace in Ukraine also inched closer towards formally registering as a candidate, securing a nomination from a group of more than 500 supporters in the Russian capital.

Dmitry Medvedev, United Russia’s chairman and a former Russian president and prime minister, called on fellow party members to “mobilize all activists and supporters” in support of Putin before the vote, scheduled for March 15-17, according to reports by Russian state agencies.

In a speech at the conference, Medvedev referred to Putin as “our candidate,” and asserted that his reelection for a fifth term as head of state “should be absolutely logical, legitimate and absolutely indisputable.”

“We must mobilize all activists, all supporters in order to prevent any disruptions during the election campaign, stop any attempts to influence the course of the campaign from the outside, arrange provocations, disseminate false, harmful information or violate public order,” Medvedev said.

Analysts have described Putin’s reelection as all but assured, given the tight control he has established over Russia’s political system during his 24 years in power. Prominent critics who could challenge him on the ballot are either in jail or living abroad, and most independent media have been banned within Russia.

On Saturday, a group including top officials from the United Russia party, prominent Russian actors, singers, athletes and other public figures formally nominated Putin to run as an independent.

The nomination by a group of at least 500 supporters is mandatory under Russian election law for those not running on a party ticket. Independent candidates also need to gather signatures from at least 300,000 supporters in 40 or more Russian regions.

Hours before United Russia delegates announced their endorsement of Putin on Sunday, a former journalist and mom-of-three from a small town in western Russia cleared the initial hurdle, according to Telegram updates by Sota, a Russian news publication covering the opposition, protests and human rights issues. Yekaterina Duntsova’s candidacy was formally backed by a group of 521 supporters at a meeting in Moscow, Sota reported.

A former local legislator who calls for peace in Ukraine and the release of imprisoned Kremlin critics, Duntsova has spoken of being “afraid” following the launch of her bid for the presidency, and fears that Russian authorities might break up the supporters’ meeting set to advance it.

According to Sota, electricity briefly went out at the venue where Duntsova’s supporters were gathered, and building security initially refused to let some supporters into the venue, but the meeting was otherwise unimpeded.

The Kremlin leader has used different election tactics over the years. He ran as an independent in 2018 and his campaign gathered signatures. In 2012, he ran as a United Russia nominee instead.

At least one party — A Just Russia, which has 27 seats in the 450-seat State Duma — was willing to nominate Putin as its candidate this year. But its leader, Sergei Mironov, was quoted by the state news agency RIA Novosti on Saturday as saying that Putin will be running as an independent and will be gathering signatures.

Under constitutional reforms he orchestrated, the 71-year-old Putin is eligible to seek two more six-year terms after his current term expires next year, potentially allowing him to remain in power until 2036.