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Russia’s Putin seeks fourth term as president

Vladimir Putin confirmed he will run in 2018 while on a factory visit

Vladimir Putin has announced he plans to seek another term as Russian president in next year’s election – a contest which polls predict he will win comfortably.

Mr Putin has been in office – either as president or prime minister – since 2000, and a win next year would see the 65-year-old extend his dominance of the nation’s politics into a third decade.

“I will put forward my candidacy for the post of president of the Russian Federation,” he told an audience of workers at a car factory in the city of Nizhny Novgorod.

“There’s no better place or opportunity to put my candidacy forward. I’m sure that everything will work out for us.”

Past candidates such as Communist chief Gennady Zyuganov, ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky and liberal leader Grigory Yavlinsky have all declared their intention to run.

Ksenia Sobchak, a TV host who is the daughter of late former St Petersburg mayor Anatoly Sobchak, who was Putin’s boss in the 1990s, is also likely to join the field.

Alexei Navalny, the most prominent Putin opponent, also wants to run, even though a conviction he says is politically motivated prevents him from joining the campaign.

Mr Putin’s approval ratings top 80%, meaning a comfortable first-round victory in the March poll is likely.

Putin fishes in the remote Tuva region

A win would see Mr Putin secure a fourth six-year term as president and means he would be eligible to serve until 2024, when he will be 72.

Mr Putin is lauded by supporters as a strongman figure who has restored national pride and given Russia a renewed clout on the international stage.

But opponents say he has overseen a corrupt authoritarian system and accuse him of destabilising the world order through Moscow’s interventions in Syria and Ukraine.

Analysts note that Mr Putin’s biggest challenge in the election will not be fending off his opponents – no one appears capable of beating him – but rather mobilising voters to turn out amid signs apathy is seeping in.

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While a Putin victory is seen as a safe bet by most Russia watchers, what follows next is likely to be more unpredictable.

A fourth term would be, under Russia’s constitution, Mr Putin’s last and there is no obvious successor on the horizon.

Many investors say the lack of a clear succession plan and the jockeying for position that is likely to ensue as the Putin era comes to an end is becoming the biggest political risk.

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One of the items at the top of Mr Putin’s agenda if he wins re-election will be whether to keep prime minister Dmitry Medvedev in post.

That decision will be closely watched – as whoever holds that post is often seen as the president’s heir apparent.

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    Image: The FPO’s Heinz-Christian Strache is tipped to be deputy chancellor

    Austria is set to become the only western European country with a far-right party in government.

    The head of the conservative People’s Party (OVP), Sebastian Kurz, has struck a coalition deal with the far-right Freedom Party (FPO).

    The FPO will take charge of the foreign, interior and defence ministries, among others, while its leader, 48-year-old Heinz-Christian Strache, will be deputy chancellor.

    Mr Kurz, 31, will be the youngest leader in Europe. His OVP will run ministries including finance and justice.

    When the OVP won Austria’s election on 15 October it did so with a hard line on immigration – a policy which often overlapped with that of the FPO.

    The FPO was third, taking 26% of the vote.

    “Nobody has anything to fear,” said the FPO’s secretary general and Austria’s next interior minister, Herbert Kickl.

    Sebastian Kurz
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    Mr Kurz held a joint news conference with Mr Strache and told reporters: “Our aims are quite clear.

    “We want to ease the tax burden for people, we want to strengthen our economy, which will bolster our social system.”

    Mr Kurz, known as ‘wunderwuzzi’ or ‘whizz-kid’, added: “And first and foremost we want to increase security in our country, including by combating illegal immigration.”

    While Mr Kurz has said his administration will be pro-European, both he and Mr Strache have expressed doubts about further social integration.

    Sebastian Kurz
    Image: Mr Kurz, 31, is Europe’s youngest leader

    The two men presented their agreement to Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen, a former Greens leader who narrowly beat the FPO in a presidential vote in 2015.

    Mr Van der Bellen, who has the right to reject ministers, has said a new government could be sworn in early next week if everything went to plan.

    Following their meeting, Mr Van der Bellen said they had agreed it was in Austria’s “national interest” to remain at the “centre of a strong European Union”.

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    The FPO’s success mirrors that of similar parties across Europe. Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party is now the second-largest in the Netherlands, the Front National in France was involved in a run-off for the presidency in May and representatives from Germany’s AfD have entered the Bundestag.

    When the FPO was last in government, under the late Joerg Haider, other EU countries imposed sanctions on Vienna in protest.

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