Russian President Vladimir Putin announced he is seeking another term in his country’s March 2024 election after more than two decades of leading.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced he is seeking another term in his country’s March 2024 election after more than two decades of leading.

Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine will participate in what’s widely expected to be a presidential election with a foregone conclusion. Russia’s Central Election Commission will hold “house-to-house voting” in Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.

The news comes as the Russian military is expected to intensify attacks on Ukraine in the winter months, targeting critical civilian infrastructure.

“Winter has traditionally been a Russian military advantage. If you study the campaigns of WWII, some of the most important Russian victories you know, the Battle of Moscow, the Battle of Stalingrad, were all had in the wintertime. So the Russian military tends to pride itself on being active in the winter months,” Goldstein said.

On Friday, Russia launched a bombardment of cruise missiles at Ukrainian targets, the first attack of its kind in nearly 80 days. Missiles heading toward the capital city of Kyiv were shot down by Ukrainian defenses, according to Serhii Popko, head of the Kyiv City Military Administration.

In Washington, the Biden administration said it only has a matter of weeks before it exhausts its ability to provide Ukraine with security assistance. President Joe Biden and his team have urged Congress to approve additional aid immediately.

“A few more weeks here and then we’re out of Schlitz when it comes to helping Ukraine with the kind of security assistance that we’ve been able to provide. And that’s just, that, that should be unacceptable to everybody,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters Thursday.

There is broad bipartisan support among lawmakers to get it done. Republicans, however, insist new Ukraine aid be conditioned on major U.S. border and immigration policy changes. Negotiations with Democrats appeared to pick back up Friday after stalling for nearly a week.

Public support for Ukraine in the U.S. has declined over the past year and a half, according to polls by Gallup. In an October poll, a majority of Republicans and about half of Independents said they’d prefer the U.S. try and end the conflict as soon as possible, even if that means Russia seizes Ukrainian territory. Only 19% of Democrats said they’d favor this outcome.

+++++

When asked by a reporter about pressure on Ukraine to reach a compromise with Russia to end the war, Kirby said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy “gets to determine how and when this war ends and under what conditions he’s willing to negotiate with Mr. Putin.”

Goldstein said key players need to start thinking about how to settle the war and find ways to repair Ukraine’s rails and energy infrastructure.

“It’s going to take very creative diplomacy,” Goldstein said. “But I think thinking on the economic side, a lot of thought needs to be given on how to build Ukraine.”

Vladimir Putin on Friday moved to prolong his repressive and unyielding grip on Russia for at least another six years, announcing his candidacy in the presidential election next March that he is all but certain to win.

Putin still commands wide support after nearly a quarter-century in power, despite starting an immensely costly war in Ukraine that has taken thousands of his countrymen’s lives, provoked repeated attacks inside Russia — including one on the Kremlin itself — and corroded its aura of invincibility.

A short-lived rebellion in June by mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin raised widespread speculation that Putin could be losing his grip, but he emerged with no permanent scars. Prigozhin’s death in a mysterious plane crash two months later reinforced the view that Putin was in absolute control.

Putin, who was first elected president in March 2000, announced his decision to run in the March 17 presidential election after a Kremlin award ceremony, when war veterans and others pleaded with him to seek reelection in what Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described as “spontaneous” remarks.

“I won’t hide it from you — I had various thoughts about it over time, but now, you’re right, it’s necessary to make a decision,” Putin said in a video released by the Kremlin after the event. “I will run for president of the Russian Federation.”

Tatiana Stanovaya of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center noted that the announcement was made in a low-key way instead of a live televised speech, probably reflecting the Kremlin’s spin effort to emphasize Putin’s modesty and his perceived focus on doing his job as opposed to loud campaigning.

“It’s not about prosperity, it’s about survival,” Stanovaya observed. “The stakes have been raised to the maximum.”

About 80% of the populace approves of Putin’s performance, according to the independent pollster Levada Center. That support might come from the heart or it might reflect submission to a leader whose crackdown on any opposition has made even relatively mild criticism perilous.

Whether due to real or coerced support, Putin is expected to face only token opposition on the ballot.

Putin, 71, has twice used his leverage to amend the constitution so he could theoretically stay in power until he’s in his mid-80s. He is already the longest-serving Kremlin leader since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, who died in 1953.

In 2008, he stepped aside to become prime minister due to term limits but continued calling the shots while his close associate Dmitry Medvedev served as a placeholder president. Presidential terms were then extended to six years from four, while another package of amendments he pushed through three years ago reset the count for two consecutive terms to begin in 2024.

“He is afraid to give up power,” Dmitry Oreshkin, a political analyst and professor at Free University of Riga, Latvia, told The Associated Press this year.

+++++

At the time of the amendments that allowed him two more terms, Putin’s concern about losing power may have been elevated: Levada polling showed his approval rating significantly lower, hovering around 60%.

In the view of some analysts, that dip in popularity could have been a main driver of the war that Putin launched in Ukraine in February 2022.

“This conflict with Ukraine was necessary as a glue. He needed to consolidate his power,” said commentator Abbas Gallyamov, a former Putin speechwriter now living in Israel.

Brookings Institution scholar Fiona Hill, a former U.S. National Security Council expert on Russian affairs, agreed that Putin thought “a lovely small, victorious war” would consolidate support for his reelection.

“Ukraine would capitulate,” she told AP earlier this year. “He’d install a new president in Ukraine. He would declare himself the president of a new union of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia over the course of the time leading up to the 2024 election. He’d be the supreme leader.”

The war didn’t turn out that way. It devolved into a grueling slog in which neither side makes significant headway, posing severe challenges to the rising prosperity integral to Putin’s popularity and Russians’ propensity to set aside concerns about corrupt politics and shrinking tolerance of dissent.

For the first time, voting in the presidential election will take place over three days from March 15 to 17, 2024, including in four regions of Ukraine partially and illegally annexed by Russia. The election commission argued that the practice of multi-day voting, used in other elections since the COVID-19 pandemic, is more convenient for voters.

Putin’s rule has spanned five U.S. presidencies, from Bill Clinton to Joe Biden. He became acting president on New Year’s Eve in 1999, when Boris Yeltsin unexpectedly resigned. He was elected to his first term in March 2000.

Although Putin has long abandoned the macho photo shoots of bear hunting and scuba diving that once amused and impressed the world, he shows little sign of slowing down. Photos from 2022 of him with a bloated face and a hunched posture led to speculation he was seriously ill, but he seems little changed in recent public appearances.

Nigel Gould-Davies, former British ambassador to Belarus and senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, noted that it was emblematic that a war veteran whose son was killed in the fighting set Putin’s campaign in motion.

“This is taking place in the context of a major war that is imposing material and human constraints and stresses on Russia,” Gould-Davies said. “So ultimately, it will be all about the war.”

He noted that Putin has built “a system that has become more systemically corrupt, more repressive, and also in foreign policy terms – I think this is really the great historical significance – Russia now is more alienated, isolated from the West than at any time since at least the last years of Stalin.”

The key lesson for the West is that “there can be no constructive relationship with Russia while Putin or anyone like Putin is in office,” Gould-Davies said.

Jim Heintz, who reported from Tallinn, Estonia, has covered Vladimir Putin for The Associated Press for the whole of his Kremlin leadership.

Emma Burrows in London and Andrew Katell in New York contributed.