Putin Sends Message to World with ‘Spontaneous’ Election Announcement

Sputnik/Sergei Guneev/Pool via REUTERS
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin attends a ceremony to present Gold Star medals to service members, bearing the title of Hero of Russia and involved in the country’s military campaign in Ukraine, on the eve of Heroes of the Fatherland Day at the St. George Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow, Russia, December 8, 2023.

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s paramount leader, Vladimir Putin, was not even looking at the television camera when he announced that he would aim to stay in the Kremlin for at least another six years as head of the world’s biggest nuclear power.

After pinning the gold star “Hero of Russia” medals on the lapels of soldiers who had fought in Ukraine, some of the men and mothers of the fallen rushed up to one of the best-guarded leaders in the world in the Grand Kremlin Palace.

Artyom Zhoga, a lieutenant colonel born in Soviet-era Ukraine who fights for Russia, asked Putin to run again: “You are our president, we are your team. We need you. Russia needs you.”

Putin thanked him.

“I will not hide that I have had different thoughts at different times but it is now time to make a decision. I will run for the post of president,” Putin said, his muffled words picked up by a microphone nearby and his back to the camera.

Others, including Sapizhat Mazayeva, mother of a fallen soldier decorated as a hero of Russia, told the 71-year-old president and ex-KGB spy that his work needed to be continued.

The setting of Putin’s announcement, surrounded by decorated soldiers and mothers of fallen soldiers, may be an indication of how he perceives his rule, and some Kremlin watchers said it could give hints about the future of the Ukraine war.

“Putin is going to the polls as a military leader of a country at war,” said Sergei Markov, a former Kremlin adviser.

“This is exactly what the choice of the place of Putin’s statement says: at the request of officers, heroes of Russia, heroes of the war in Donbas.”

Markov said the very fact of agreeing to run at the request of Zhoga, who was born in Donetsk and whose Sparta Battalion fought alongside Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine ahead of the 2022 invasion, indicated that Putin wanted to seize all of the Donbas region.

Russia currently controls just under a fifth of Ukraine, including Crimea which Russia annexed in 2014. But Russian forces do not control Donbas – which consists of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces – in its entirety.

Ukraine says it will not rest until every enemy soldier is ejected, though Kyiv’s counteroffensive this year has failed to pierce Russian lines.


Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who has said in recent weeks that he hoped very much Putin would run, said the announcement was spontaneous and denied the scene had been pre-prepared.

“He was asked a question and he answered it. Well, yes, it’s completely spontaneous,” Peskov said. “He reacted to the appeals of heroic people, so yes, it was a reaction to the appeal of people.”

The way in which the announcement was made, with Putin admitting the burden of office, also gave indications about the Kremlin’s own views of domestic politics, political analysts said.

“The TV puts it in context: a modest Putin, occupied with real affairs,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of the R.Politik consultancy.

Putin, who was handed the presidency by Boris Yeltsin on the last day of 1999, has already served as president for longer than any other ruler of Russia since Josef Stalin, beating even Leonid Brezhnev’s 1964-82 tenure.

By assenting to the wishes of soldiers fighting in Ukraine, Putin was able to underscore that his leadership will be needed as Russia faces off against the West in the biggest such confrontation since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

“You can see that Russia and Putin, at the head of Russia, have led a process of tectonic changes, tectonic shifts,” Peskov said. “Russia is very determined to defend its interests.”

Inside Russia, Putin casts himself as a leader who has saved Russia from the spiral of catastrophic decline which followed the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union. Some polls show he enjoys approval ratings of above 80%.

Although Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu was in the gilded Georgievsky Hall for the medal ceremony, Putin was not shown surrounded by top officials but by front-line soldiers.

“Today, under the arches of the Georgievsky Hall of the Kremlin, which embodies the greatness of Russia’s military glory, we honor the heroes of our Fatherland,” Putin said.

“I am convinced that together we will definitely achieve all our goals.”