Russia on Thursday set presidential elections for March, as Russian President Vladimir Putin, in power since 1999, can seek two additional six-year terms. File Photo by Kremlin POOL/UPI. | License Photo
Dec. 7 (UPI) -- Russia's Senate voted Thursday to hold the country's next presidential election in March 2024, with incumbent President Vladimir Putin widely expected to announce his candidacy for an unprecedented fifth term since he took power more than two decades ago.
The 162 members of the Russian Federation Council agreed unanimously to a resolution that sets March 17 as the date for the next presidential election, while the announcement also served as the official kickoff to campaign season.
The presidential vote would take place more than two years into Russia's war with Ukraine, with people in regions annexed by Moscow since the start of the conflict in February 2022 -- including Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhya and Kherson -- to be included in the vote.
The campaign will be highlighted by a notable challenge to Putin by Grigory Yavlinsky, founder of the Russian political party Yabloko, who has previously advocated for a cease-fire in Ukraine.
Putin, who has been in power since 1999 as both president and prime minister, has not yet officially announced his intention to run again for a six-year term.
Constitutional amendments approved in 2021 enable Putin to seek two additional six-year terms, potentially extending his rule until at least 2036.
Putin's approval ratings have notably surged since the start of the Ukraine war, with 68% of Russians supporting his re-election, according to a July survey by the Russian Levada Center.
The Federation Council, which is Russia's upper house of Parliament, is responsible for setting the election date between 90 and 100 days before the actual vote.
The Russian Central Election Commission now has the authority within 10 days to choose a multi-day voting period for the election, and once decided, this choice cannot be changed.
"With this decision, we are effectively launching the start of the election campaign," said Russian Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko. "By choosing a head of state together, we fully share the common responsibility and common destiny of our fatherland."
Matviyenko noted that she expected criticism from "biased foreign organizations" aiming to discredit the upcoming election as the international community continues to accuse Moscow of manipulating elections to consolidate Putin's grip on power.
Imprisoned Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny has called on Russian voters to oppose Putin.
"Presidential elections will take place on March 17, 2024. On this day we call on everyone to vote against Vladimir Putin," a post on Navalny's X account Thursday read. "More importantly, we encourage everyone to use the 100 days before the vote to campaign against Putin and his power."
Navalny survived an attempted poisoning in 2020 and was arrested in 2021 on charges that have been denounced as political by human rights monitors.
Navalny's team said the vote "will be rigged."
In an online statement, Navalny said, "For Putin, the 2024 elections are a referendum to approve his actions, to approve the war."
The Kremlin has a notorious reputation for leveraging politically motivated charges against opposition figures to thwart challenges to Putin, as demonstrated by a series of attacks and arrests that targeted Navalny in the run-up to the last presidential election in 2018.
Putin rose to power on Dec. 31, 1999, when President Boris Yeltsin resigned, and Putin, who had been serving as prime minister, assumed the presidency. He has since become the most dominant figure in Russian politics since Josef Stalin, who ruled the Soviet Union for nearly three decades, from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953.