Russian President Vladimir Putin has told an annual press conference attended by national and foreign media that he will run for president in early 2018 as an independent candidate. At Putin’s annual question and answer session with Russian and foreign media in Moscow on Thursday, the president was asked by a journalist from the Kommersant newspaper who he was running with for president in March 2018. “I will run on my own behalf,” Putin said. “Definitely, I hope that I will be supported by some popular movements, parties or any other groups that share my views and that endorse my views so I really rely on broad support from our people.” Putin’s comments are significant as he signaled a break with the United Russia party that has been associated with the strongman leader since its formation in 2001. A possible explanation could be that United Russia’s popularity ratings lag behind those of Putin and that the president wants to distance himself from an unpopular ruling party.
Data from the independent Russian polling center Levada showed that Putin’s approval rating in November stood at 81 percent — by contrast, the approval rating of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was just 44 percent — and approval of the Russian government, dominated by United Russia, was only 42 percent. During the press conference that followed a question and answer format, one reporter from Russia’s Life news agency asked the president why, over the 20 or so years of Putin being in power, there had there not been an influential political opposition in Russia. “Should I train contenders for myself?” Putin replied, adding that he wanted to see a more competitive political environment in Russia nonetheless. “Our political system, just like our economic system, should be a competitive one and that is my goal. I’d like to have a balanced political system and competition is vital. We don’t have high-profile opposition figures and they can’t compete with those in power,” he said. Kicking off the press conference, a journalist from radio station Govorit Moskva (Moscow is Speaking) asked Putin what his priorities were for Russia if he was president again, a role he has had since 2000, as well as two stints as prime minister. Putin responded that he would focus on developing the country’s infrastructure, healthcare, education and economy. “Our ultimate goal should be to increase the income of our people,” he said.