President Vladimir Putin on Friday described Moscow’s military action in Ukraine as a battle for Russia’s survival as he campaigned for reelection next month in balloting that he’s all but certain to win.

President Vladimir Putin on Friday described Moscow’s military action in Ukraine as a battle for Russia’s survival as he campaigned for reelection next month in balloting that he’s all but certain to win.

Speaking at a meeting with arms industries workers in the city of Tula south of Moscow, Putin declared that the vast majority of Russians support his course.

“If the public hadn’t felt that way, nothing would have happened,” he said. “We are doing what people expect us to do.”

He again argued that sending troops into Ukraine was necessary to protect Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine and stop what he described as attempts by Washington and its NATO allies to encroach on Moscow’s vital security interests. Ukraine and its Western allies have denounced it as an unprovoked act of aggression.

“If we hadn’t protected our people … we would have turned into a weak country lacking self-sufficiency that no one cares for,” he said. “They would have patronizingly patted us on the shoulder and given us rotten potatoes as humanitarian assistance while thinking how to chip away pieces from us.”

Putin said that despite Western expectations Russia would collapse quickly under the brunt of sanctions, its economy has grown and military industries have sharply increased output.

Putin, 71, is running as an independent in the March 15-17 vote, relying on a rigid control over Russia’s political landscape that he has established during 24 years in power.

His reelection appears all but assured with prominent opponents who could challenge him either jailed or living abroad and most independent media banned. He faces only token opponents from Kremlin-friendly parties.

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Under a constitutional reform that he masterminded, Putin is eligible to for two more six-year terms, potentially allowing him to remain in power until 2036. He is already the longest-serving Kremlin leader since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, who died in 1953.

Russia’s Central Election Commission on Friday announced that “errors” had been found in election paperwork filed by Boris Nadezhdin.

Nadezhdin, a staunch critic of President Vladimir Putin’s nearly two-year war in Ukraine, submitted more than 100,000 signatures in support of his candidacy for Russia’s March presidential election this week.

Nikolai Bulayev, deputy head of the Central Election Commission, said Friday, “When we see dozens of people who are no longer on this Earth but have given their signatures — that raises the question of the honesty and ethical standards of the person collecting those signatures.”

Bulayev suggested Nadezhdin himself may have engaged in forgery.

The would-be candidate rebuffed Bulayev’s accusations by name-checking the title of a famous novel by nineteenth-century Russian author Nikolai Gogol, saying there were no “Dead Souls” on his lists.

“If someone sees dead souls in my signature lists, well, friends, those questions should not be addressed to me,” said Nadezhdin, “It’s more for the church or exorcists.”

Nadezhdin and communist candidate Sergey Malinkovich have been summoned to appear before the Commission on Monday, when officials will reportedly show them the, “results of the checking procedure.”

Boris Nadezhdin has previously said he would challenge the Commission’s decision in court if he is barred from running.

Vladimir Putin has led Russia since 1999 as either prime minister or president.

Political observers in Russia and elsewhere say they assume the Central Election Commission will use any means necessary to keep candidates from challenging Putin, who had the Russian Constitution rewritten in 2020 to make it possible for him to run for two more consecutive terms in office.

Putin’s grip on Russia over the last two decades has allowed him to use the levers of power to jail and disqualify any opponent he sees as a threat.

The invasion of Ukraine — which has never been called a war in Russia but rather a “special military operation” — has become a sore spot for Putin domestically and by disqualifying Nadezhdin, the president may be able to conduct his electoral campaign without having to defend his decision to invade Ukraine and plunge Russia into a war with no end in sight.

Watch as Vladimir Putin awkwardly joins schoolchildren in singing the national anthem.

The Russian president was appearing at a youth convention in Moscow on Thursday 1 February and was seen tapping one of the boys on the arm, inviting him to sing.

Mr Putin and the crowd repeatedly chanted “Russia” before breaking into song.

The youth event was first launched in 2008 under the name “Movement of the First”.

As they sang the national anthem, the president was seen passing the microphone to different members of the young choir and hugged two of them as the song ended.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Jan. 31 that Ukrainian territories currently under occupation must be fully integrated with the Russian Federation by the year 2030.

Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region has been illegally occupied by Russian forces since 2014, the same year Russia illegally annexed Crimea. Since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, parts of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, and Mykolaiv oblasts remain under Russian occupation.

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Putin said that over the next six years, the occupied regions “must reach the all-Russia level” by developing in certain “key areas.”

The speech painted a rosy picture of the so-called “integration” process, with Putin claiming “good momentum” on socio-economic development in the occupied territories.

He also urged Russian banks not to worry about Western sanctions.

“What is there to be afraid of? We need to enter these (Ukrainian) territories more actively and work there,” Putin said, addressing his remarks to financial institutions.

Russian media reported on Feb. 1 that Turkish banks were closing accounts with Russian businesses due to the threat of U.S. sanctions.

U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Dec. 22, 2023 sanctioning foreign financial institutions that contribute to Russia’s war effort.

According to analysts at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), Putin’s remarks indicate that he is preparing to remain at war with Ukraine over the long term.

“Russia is commencing long-term plans and does not foresee any territorial concessions,” the ISW said on Feb. 1.

Bloomberg reported on Jan. 26 that Putin has signaled willingness to enter into peace talks, and that he would drop opposition to Ukraine joining NATO in exchange for control over Ukraine’s occupied territories.

Russian-occupied regions constitute about 18% of Ukraine’s territory. Kyiv has said that a condition of any peace plan is Russia’s complete withdrawal from Ukrainian lands.

Ukrainian and Western leaders have also repeatedly said that they do not believe Moscow is interested in good-faith peace negotiations.