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‘Candidate Putin’ makes first appearance at annual press conference

PTI | Moscow |

Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold an annual press conference Thursday in his first major public appearance since announcing he would seek a new six-year term in March 2018 elections.

The marathon event has in the past lasted up to almost five hours and this year will be attended by more than 1,600 journalists.

The president typically answers questions on a broad range of topics — from foreign policy to the state of provincial roads to his private life — and receives televised requests from the far corners of Russia.

Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin planned to spend all of the previous day preparing for what would be his 13th such press conference, due to start at 0900 GMT.

Analysts said the event would give a clearer idea of what to expect from Putin ahead of an election in which he is widely expected to extend his rule to 2024, making him the country’s longest-serving leader since Joseph Stalin.

“It will be the start of the election campaign: he will have to demonstrate the result of his work and make election promises,” Russian political analyst Konstantin Kalachev told AFP.

According to a survey published by independent pollster Levada on Wednesday, 75 per cent of Russians would be prepared to vote for Putin in March, despite having yet to hear any campaign pledges since he announced his candidacy last week.

Putin, who has ruled Russia since 1999, will face a handful of token opponents at the ballot box.

One of these is Ksenia Sobchak, a former socialite turned liberal TV presenter who many suspect is running as Kremlin “spoiler” candidate to split the opposition and boost interest in the polls.

Sobchak, whose father was Putin’s political mentor and who is rumoured to be the president’s goddaughter, will be on Thursday’s event as a journalist for opposition channel Dozhd and is expected to be allowed to ask a question.

Putin’s main challenge will be to convince Russians to vote at all in an election in which he is widely expected to win. According to Levada, only 28 per cent of Russians said they were certain to vote in March.