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Ukraine war: Putin vows to expand ‘demilitarized zone’ amid election preparations


Russian President Vladimir Putin has vowed to widen the “demilitarized zone” in Ukraine, aiming to protect Russian territory from assaults, particularly those targeting urban areas. This move comes ahead of the Russian presidential election set for March 15-17, with Putin’s victory appearing certain.
The expansion of this zone is seen as a critical step in safeguarding Russian cities against the backdrop of the ongoing conflict.
Military mandates
Putin’s strategy includes the formation of an expanded demilitarized zone to prevent Ukrainian forces from launching long-range attacks on Russian cities. The call for this buffer zone aligns with Russia’s ongoing military operations aimed at pushing back Ukrainian forces, a mission Putin describes as crucial to safeguarding the homeland.
The call for an expanded buffer area comes after Russian border cities have experienced a series of assaults, including drone and missile strikes, as well as artillery fire from Ukrainian forces.
The President, in a meeting with activists running his campaign on Wednesday, highlighted the efforts of Russian forces in driving Ukrainian troops away from key areas, emphasizing the need to shield Russian cities from advanced Western weaponry supplied to Ukraine.
“Russia has been forced to defend its interests, including by military means,” Putin told the meeting with his campaign staff, saying that even as the meeting was going on, Russian troops made new gains on the edge of the town of Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine.
“We are passing through a very difficult and important period in the development of our country, the strengthening of its independence and sovereignty in all vectors,” he said. “Scum that is always present is being washed away bit by bit.”
Election and control
As the election nears, Putin, running as an independent, benefits from a firm control over Russia’s political landscape, a structure he has meticulously built over 24 years in power. With major opposition figures sidelined and independent media banned, his re-election seems almost a foregone conclusion. Putin also highlighted ongoing military advancements in Ukraine and expressed Russia’s determination to fortify its independence and sovereignty, even considering extending his leadership until 2036 through a constitutional amendment.
‘President for life’?
Through a constitutional amendment he initiated, Putin has the opportunity to pursue two additional six-year terms, potentially extending his reign until 2036. His tenure already marks him as the Kremlin’s longest-standing leader since the era of Josef Stalin, who passed away in 1953.
The election field includes three nominees from parties with parliamentary representation: Nikolai Kharitonov of the Communist Party, Leonid Slutsky from the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, and Vladislav Davankov of the New People Party. Historically, these parties have shown alignment with Kremlin directives. Notably, Kharitonov previously challenged Putin in the 2004 elections, securing a distant second place.
Joining the race is Boris Nadezhdin, a 60-year-old municipal lawmaker from a locality close to Moscow. Nadezhdin has been vocal about his stance, advocating for a cessation of the Ukrainian conflict and the initiation of dialogue with Western nations.
(With inputs from agencies)

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