‘It shouldn’t be like this’ The time and place of Putin’s reelection announcement seem to have caught some Kremlin insiders by surprise
On December 8, Vladimir Putin said he would run for a fifth presidential term. While the news surprised no one, the circumstances of his announcement were less expected. Putin confirmed his candidacy at a Heroes of the Fatherland Day award ceremony after Artem Zhoga, the speaker of parliament for the self-proclaimed “DNR,” asked him to run “on behalf of the residents of the annexed territories” and the military. In what the Kremlin has described as an “absolutely spontaneous” decision, Putin agreed. It seems, though, that Putin’s staff had a less “militarized” setting in mind for the occasion. Meduza special correspondent Andrey Pertsev spoke with Russian government insiders about the now-defunct plans the Kremlin had for the announcement and the effect this “surprise” statement will have on Putin’s campaign.
Sources close to the Kremlin told Meduza that even a few days before Vladimir Putin’s “impromptu” announcement that he was running for a fifth presidential term, Putin’s staff (at least the political and media blocs, headed by Sergey Kiriyenko and Alexey Gromov respectively) were confident he would announce his candidacy on December 14, during his call-in show “Direct Line with Vladimir Putin.”
Everything ended up happening a week earlier, though. On December 8, after a Heroes of the Fatherland Day award ceremony, Artem Zhoga, a war participant and speaker of parliament for the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People's Republic” (“DNR”), asked Putin to run for president. “You’re right, now is the time to make a decision,” Putin responded. “I will run for the office of President of the Russian Federation.”
Meduza’s sources close to Putin’s administration said this was essentially a spontaneous move. They noted that Kremlin staff didn’t have time to “prepare it and set it up properly.” “In theory, it shouldn’t be like this. Announcing candidacy should be done personally and publicly, not on the fly, in a rush. But the president wanted it this way,” one of the sources added.
Originally, the Kremlin was also considering having Putin announce his decision to seek another term on November 4, Russian Unity Day, during the opening of the “Russia” expo at the VDNKh exhibition center in Moscow. Sources told Meduza that both this scenario and an announcement during “Direct Line with Vladimir Putin” were likely options.
“Both the media and political blocs were preparing for [“Direct Line”]. The rationale [for choosing this option] was clear: the public is anxious, waiting, and then one of them asks [when Putin will run]. The expo also makes sense: look at these achievements, we have to confirm this trajectory will continue. But it turned out the [president] himself was more drawn to talking with the military,” explained a Kremlin insider.
A source close to United Russia’s leadership found Putin’s announcement at the Heroes of the Fatherland Day event logical. “The special military operation is the president’s main focus, wherever anyone might try to pull him,” he said. He added that Andrey Turchak, a senior United Russia official, might have lobbied for the “military” announcement scenario. According to the source, Turchak is “Zhoga’s friend and genuinely engaged [in war-related topics].” A source close to the Kremlin confirmed the friendship.
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Several media outlets, including Meduza, have reported that since last year, officials from Putin’s administration have been trying to distance his public image from the war, as it “provokes unease and anxiety among Russians.” (Surveys also show this.) Sources said Putin’s potential announcement at the “Russia” expo or during “Direct Line” would have been “reassuring.”
“At least he didn’t announce it standing in front of people in masks — that’s something to be thankful for. Although the signal [it gives] isn’t the most pleasant: we’ll keep on fighting. Did the president himself want to send such a clear message? Honestly, I don’t know, it was more likely an impulsive, spontaneous inclination. He himself lives by the special military operation and thinks that Russians live by it too,” said a source close to Putin’s administration.
At the same time, another Kremlin insider emphasized that the political bloc will, just as before, try to structure the presidential campaign around peaceful projects that should “reassure” voters. (As Meduza has reported, Putin’s de facto presidential campaign started several months ago.)
Meanwhile, loyal authorities and state media have already received guidelines from the administration on how to cover Putin's statement. They’re advised to refer to the president as the “leader of the country and an authority figure for ordinary heroes,” who’s given Russians “a sense of pride in their country.”
United Russia General Secretary Andrey Turchak and Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had not responded to Meduza’s questions at the time of publication.