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MOSCOW: Russia on Thursday set March 17 as the date for a presidential election which is expected to be another shoo-in for Vladimir Putin, who has silenced opposition during over two decades in power.

In a meeting broadcast live on Russian television, the upper house of parliament unanimously approved the date of the vote.

The decision “practically kicks off the presidential campaign,” said the head of the chamber, Valentina Matvienko.

Putin, a former KGB agent who has been in power in Russia either as president or prime minister since 1999, has not officially announced if he will stand in the vote for another six-year mandate.

Putin tightens media rules ahead of 2024 election

“So far there have been no statements by Putin, so let’s be patient here,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, when asked about whether the president planned to run.

Putin, 71, is due to hold an end-of-year press conference next week, where he could announce his candidacy.

It will be the first time he holds such a press conference since he ordered Russian troops into Ukraine in February 2022.

Russia has since claimed to annex the Ukrainian regions of Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, even though its troops do not fully control any of them.

Voting is planned also in those regions.

“Despite the difficult external circumstances and the attempts by the enemy to weaken Russia, we remain true to our main constitutional values,” Matvienko said.

Putin did not immediately comment on the elections after the date was set, but said at a forum earlier that no-one could “stop or slow down” Russia’s development.

‘United like never before’

Matvienko added that Russians were “united like never before” around Putin’s government “and the task of the state is to show it is worthy of this trust and to prevent any provocations.”

Putin would be running for a fifth presidential term. Following a constitutional reform in 2020, he could stay in power as president until 2036.

“The number one task today is to ensure maximum support for our leader Vladimir Putin,” said Andrey Turchak, secretary of the ruling United Russia party’s governing council.

Since launching the campaign in Ukraine, Putin has become a pariah among Western leaders and his country has been hit by unprecedented sanctions.

But the Kremlin chief has become increasingly confident in recent weeks as Western support for Ukraine has frayed and Ukraine’s counter-offensive has largely failed to pierce Russian lines.

The Russian economy has also proved resilient against sanctions and is growing again as Russia re-orients its energy exports to Asia.

After his first two presidential terms, Putin briefly became prime minister between 2008 and 2012 while his protege Dmitry Medvedev became president.

The switch was to get around a constitutional ban on more than two consecutive presidential terms.

During his long rule, Putin has silenced dissent and turned Russia towards authoritarianism and nationalism.

Almost all opposition figures have either been imprisoned, are in exile or have been killed in murky circumstances.

Since the start of the conflict in Ukraine, Russia has imprisoned opponents with beefed-up legislation outlawing criticism of the army.

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