Russia scheduled presidential elections for next March as the veteran incumbent Vladimir Putin said “no one can stop” his country’s development, and US counterpart Joe Biden pleaded with Republicans to allow more military aid to be sent to Kyiv.
The upper house of Russia’s parliament named March 17th as election day, and Mr Putin (71) is expected to announce that he will run for another term after constitutional changes made in 2020 allowed him to rule until 2036.
“This decision essentially launches the presidential election campaign…The forthcoming elections are historic, they will set the direction of our development and path during a tough time of titanic changes for all humanity,” said Valentina Matvienko, speaker of the upper house.
Mr Putin’s regime has effectively outlawed genuine political opposition in Russia over his 20 years in power, during which several of his most prominent critics have been killed, jailed or driven into exile. The process has intensified since his full invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, which Russians are banned from publicly criticising or even calling a “war”.
Russia says it is only a matter of time before western support for Ukraine crumbles and its forces are victorious on the battlefield, where they are now putting pressure on Kyiv’s troops in several eastern areas after stymying a Ukrainian counteroffensive this summer.
“I have no doubt that no one can stop us or slow down our development,” Mr Putin said at an investment forum in Moscow on Thursday, when he repeated claims that Russia’s economy was getting stronger and western sanctions had failed. “The world has entered an era of radical changes and serious tests…Only a strong, stable and, I stress, sovereign country will be able to pass this phase successfully, to become a growth centre of the new world economy,” he added, once again framing current conflicts and crises as the death throes of western domination of world affairs.
Republicans in the US Senate continued to block a $111 billion (€103bn) spending package that includes aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, because it did not allocate enough money for US border security. US president Joe Biden said it was “stunning” that “Republicans in Congress are willing to give Putin the greatest gift he could hope for and abandon our global leadership not just to Ukraine, but beyond that”.
“If Putin takes Ukraine he won’t stop there…He’s going to keep going. He’s made that pretty clear. If Putin attacks a Nato ally…then we’ll have something that we don’t seek and that we don’t have today – American troops fighting Russian troops. History is going to judge harshly those who turn their back on freedom’s cause. We can’t let Putin win.”
Meanwhile, heavy fighting continued in eastern Ukraine and a truck driver was killed when Russia targeted Black Sea port infrastructure in the south with drone strikes. The Ukrainian military said it shot down 15 of 18 attack drones fired by Russia.
Russia has imported attack drones from Iran, and Mr Putin said on Thursday that relations between the states were “developing very well” when he hosted his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi.