The All-Russia People's Front (ONF), an action group consisting of politicians, celebrities and other well-known Russians, has officially nominated Vladimir Putin as an independent candidate in next year's presidential election.
The nomination on December 26 came a day after the Central Election Commission officially barred opposition politician Aleksei Navalny from running against Putin in the March 18 vote saying he was ineligible because of a past criminal conviction on embezzlement charges.
An ONF meeting in Moscow of almost 700 people, including ballet dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze, director Vladimir Khotinenko, actors Mikhail Boyarsky and Vladimir Mashkov, designer Valentin Yudashkin, pianist Denis Matsuev, and ice hockey player Vladislav Tretyak, formally backed Putin on December 26, a formality needed as part of the process of being an independent candidate.
"The decision was made unanimously," Yelena Shmelyova, the chair of the action group, said in announcing the result of the vote.
Putin, who attended a New Year’s event with children at the Kremlin instead of the nomination meeting, announced his decision to run for a fourth term on December 6.
Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the TASS news agency that Putin will submit all the documents needed for his candidacy "in due time," possibly before the New Year.
Analysts say Putin is eager to score a strong win in a vote with a high turnout in order to make his mandate as strong as possible in what could be his final term as the constitution bars presidents from serving more than two consecutive terms.
'Path Of Creation'
The ONF was created in 2011, before Putin announced he would seek to return to the Kremlin after a stint as prime minister, and provides Putin with a pillar of support that is separate from the ruling United Russia party.
Putin and his allies say he brought stability to Russia in the wake of an economic crisis in the late 1990s and two devastating wars against separatists in the Chechnya region from 1994 to the early 2000s.
Putin is "able to lead the country on the path of creation, without revolutions and upheavals," Pavel Logachev, commander of the nuclear submarine Sergei Novokhatsky, said at the nomination meeting.
Critics say he has rolled back the advances in democracy and human rights that were made after the Soviet collapse. Detractors also say that the longtime former KGB officer has returned to Soviet-style methods of stifling dissent and has needlessly stoked confrontation with Washington and the West.
A spokeswoman for European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on December 26 that the decision to bar Navalny from the election "casts serious doubt on political pluralism in Russia" and on the prospects for democratic elections in the country.
Putin was first elected in March 2000, after President Boris Yeltsin stepped down on the last day of 1999 and put him in charge as acting president.