Russia's President Vladimir Putin for the first time confirmed his much-anticipated run for re-election in 2018 during a meeting with GAZ carmaker workers in Nizhny Novgorod on December 6.
Few doubt that Putin, who enjoys overwhelming support and ratings of over 80%, will be re-elected for his fourth non-consecutive six-year term and extend his firm grip on power to over two decades.
"I will place my candidacy at the presidential elections," 65-year-old Putin is quoted as saying, adding that there was "no better place to make such an announcement."
Putin faces little if no competition from dinosaur systemic politicians such as communist Gennady Zyuganov and ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, as well as opposition leader Alexei Navalny, celebrity socialite Xenia (aka Ksenia) Sobchak, and pro-Kremlin business ombudsman Boris Titov.
Despite broad expectations of another presidential term under Putin, previous analysis showed that the Kremlin is currently suffering from a vacuum of both ideological and economic ideas, and struggling to come up with a coherent 2018 campaign message or mobilise policymakers to re-draft the path to sustainable economic growth.
However, recent developments such as the tightening of the US sanctions and exclusion of Russian athletes from the 2018 Olympic Games are likely to make life easier for Putin's campaign camp that can now easily settle for the familiar "us against the hostile West" rhetoric.
The greatest threat to Putin's re-election is perhaps public apathy or indecisiveness, with recent polls showing that over 40% of Russian don’t know who to vote for, or whether they would vote at all.
As demonstrated in the municipal and regional elections in September, record-low voter turnover could jeopardise Kremlin's plan for a “70/70” presidential election, where 70% of the population vote for Putin as president and there is a 70% turnout.