Campaign diary

Putin’s big day

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Vladimir Putin announcing that he will run for president again in 2018 at the GAZ plant

by Sarah Hurst

After attempting to create suspense by delaying his announcement, Vladimir Putin finally admitted today that he plans to participate in his own rigged presidential election on March 18. He did this at the GAZ automotive plant in Nizhny Novgorod, and was greeted by chants of “GAZ – za vas!” (“GAZ is for you!”) from the assembled workers. Earlier in the day he had spoken at a conference of youth volunteers, where he asked the crowd if they would support him if he ran, and they cheered ecstatically.

At the same time Putin was forced to explain why Russia had been banned from the Winter Olympics by the IOC last night, but he hardly missed a beat. He said, falsely, that the IOC had found no evidence of state-organised doping in Sochi in 2014, despite the fact that the then-Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko has been banned from the Olympics for life. Mutko is now a deputy prime minister and in charge of hosting the World Cup in Russia next June. Putin also added sarcastically that foreign athletes were using medical excuses to consume otherwise banned substances, and “maybe they should compete in the Paralympics”.

Support from Depardieu

Putin said that he would have no problem with Russian athletes competing under a neutral flag, as stipulated by the IOC. This contrasted with some calls by Russian officials, including Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, for them to refuse to compete if not allowed the Russian flag and anthem. The response of Russians on Twitter to the IOC decision ought to dispel any sympathy the athletes might have got. They tweeted memes showing images of African-American athletes with giant muscles and called them “gorillas”, comparing them with dainty Russian athletes.

Putin’s participation in the election was welcomed by top Russian officials including Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin (who said that the decision provided certainty about the future), MP Yelena Mizulina (who called Putin’s decision “courageous”), and Ramzan Kadyrov, who said on Instagram that “Putin has no right to abandon the Russian people and government, as the West had hoped.” Putin’s friend Gerard Depardieu expressed approval for his decision, and Russian state TV guests pointed out that Donald Trump is an example of the chaos that can ensue when an inexperienced candidate is elected.

Alexei Navalny, banned from the election, was not mentioned by state media outlets in their coverage of Putin and his ostensible opponents.

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