The Russian Communist Party has nominated a surprise presidential candidate to run against President Vladimir Putin in the upcoming election.
The party nominated Pavel Grudinin, a largely unknown businessman with links to the farming sector, deciding to drop longtime leader Gennady Zyuganov, who had contested the five last presidential elections.
The party said on its website that the decision was made during an annual gathering of the party on December 23.
Grudinin, 57, is a mechanical engineer who has run a farm near Moscow since the 1990s.
The party's selection of a younger candidate is seen as an attempt to widen its political appeal.
The Communists finished second after the ruling United Russia party, which backs Putin, in parliamentary elections in 2016. But it won only 19 percent of the vote.
Separately on December 23, United Russia pledged its full support for Putin, who is expected to easily win the election.
Party head and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said it wanted the "ultimate victory" for Putin and pledged "all possible support" for him.
Addressing the United Russia congress, Putin promised to offer greater incentives for business, fight corruption, and pour extra resources into the underfunded health care and education system.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Civil Initiative Party officially nominated journalist and TV personality Ksenia Sobchak as its candidate in the March 18 election.