Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday he would seek re-election next year. Putin's approval ratings regularly top 80 percent, making him all but certain to win the March election by a broad margin.
The president chose to make his re-election announcement at the GAZ automobile factory in the city of Nizhny Novgorod. The factory is a symbol of Russian's industrial might, and Putin found an enthusiastic audience in the blue-collar workers who make up the core of his base.
"I couldn't find a better place and moment," he said to massive applause at the plant. "Thank you for your support. I will run for president."
For months, Putin fended off questions about his plans for 2018, fueling speculation about why he would not say if he would seek re-election. Some theorized he might step down and name a preferred successor.
Amid applause and uplifting music pumped over the speakers, he praised the factory and its long history.
“Thank you for your work, thank you for your relationship with your enterprise, your city and your country,” he said. “I'm confident that everything will work out for us.”
The 65-year-old Russian leader's potential rivals include several candidates from past contests — Communist chief Gennady Zyuganov, Liberal Democrat Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Grigory Yavlinsky — all have declared their intention to run. They will likely be joined by a notable newcomer — TV host Ksenia Sobchak, 36, a well-known television host who is the daughter of the late St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak.