MOSCOW- Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday promised “harsh” punishment for foreign interference in next year’s election, where he will seek to extend his decades-long grip on power into the 2030s.
“Any interference in Russia’s internal affairs will be punished, and punished harshly, according to Russian laws,” Putin said during a meeting with party leaders in the Duma, parliament’s lower house. “We are defending the freedom of our people, their sovereignty, their right to choose their future. It’s the people and only the people of Russia who are the source of power in our country.”
After suffering Western sanctions and setbacks on the battlefield in Ukraine last year, Putin reaches the end of 2023 appearing newly buoyant. A much-touted Ukrainian counter-offensive has failed to break Russian lines, the economy is recovering, and Western support for Kyiv seems to be faltering, with new aid packages being held up in the US Congress and the European Union.
Putin added that the number of Ukrainian soldiers captured as prisoners has “sharply increased” recently. Last week, he announced he would run for a fifth presidential term in the March 2024 election, with little doubt surrounding his victory after almost 25 years in power and with the opposition virtually non-existent. Most leading Russian opposition figures have been jailed, notably anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, or exiled.