As Russia’s presidential campaign nears, Kremlin says Putin to address nation on Dec. 14

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MOSCOW, Nov 30 (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin will hold his annual press conference and field questions from the public on Dec. 14, the Kremlin said on Thursday, stoking speculation he will use the event to announce he is seeking another six years in power.

In office as either president or prime minister since 1999, Putin has yet to say if he will run in a presidential election in March next year, but is widely expected to do so.

Six sources told Reuters earlier this month that Putin had decided to run, a move that would keep him in power until at least 2030.

The Kremlin chief felt he must steer Russia through the most perilous period in decades, they said, a reference to Russia’s war in Ukraine and what Putin casts as Moscow’s existential struggle with the West for a new world order.

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said on Tuesday that Russia’s upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, will officially announce the date of the March presidential election on Dec. 13 – a step that marks the start of overt campaigning.

Putin’s news conference will take place a day later.

“On the 14th December, Vladimir Putin will sum up the results of the year,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

“It will be a programme, a project of the TV channels as before, and it will be a combined format of the Direct Line (live question and answer session with the public) and the President’s end of year press conference,” said Peskov.

According to Russian law, the upper house of parliament must announce the exact date at least 100 days before the vote. Election day is widely assumed to be March 17.

Putin, 71, was handed the presidency by Boris Yeltsin on the last day of 1999 and is nearing the end of his fourth presidential term.

Only Josef Stalin, who ruled the Soviet Union from 1924 until his death in 1953, has been in office longer since the 1917 fall of the ruling Tsarist Romanov dynasty.

Diplomats say there is no serious rival who could threaten Putin’s chances at the ballot box should he run again.

Official opinion polls give him an approval rating of around 80% and the former KGB officer can count on the support of the state and state media.

Years of crack-downs mean there is no meaningful organised opposition to his continued rule inside Russia where politicians and officials are stressing the need for maximum unity and no change at the top at a time of war.

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