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Kremlin says Putin has no real competitors if he runs again

Russian President Putin delivers his annual address to the Federal Assembly in Moscow

MOSCOW (Reuters) - If Russian President Vladimir Putin decides to run in the 2024 presidential election, no one will be able to compete with him, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday, Russia's RBC business news service reported.

"The president has not yet announced that he will nominate his candidacy," Peskov was quoted as saying by RBC.

"But if we assume that the president stands as a candidate, then it is obvious that there can be no real competition for the president at this current stage."

Peskov added that Putin "enjoys the absolute support of the population".

The former KGB agent has dominated Russia, as president or prime minister, for more than two decades, priding himself on bringing stability to the vast nation after the chaos that engulfed it following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

However, his decision on Feb. 24, 2022, to send tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine has triggered by far the biggest challenge of his rule and ushered in the gravest confrontation with the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

The war in Ukraine has not gone to plan and in June Putin faced a mutiny by the Wagner mercenary group of Yevgeny Prigozhin, who later died in a plane crash.

The West has slapped the toughest ever sanctions on Russia's $2.1 trillion economy, forcing Moscow to accelerate its pivot towards China.

Chinese President Xi Jinping told Putin in March that he was convinced Russians would support the Kremlin chief in next year's presidential election.

Opinion polls show Putin remains by far the most popular politician in Russia, where most people rely on state media for their news. In August, his approval rating stood at 80%, higher than before the Ukraine war, according to the Levada-Centre.

The polls also show that around 70% of the population support the Russian military in Ukraine, though opposition politicians and some Western diplomats say such polls cannot be trusted.

(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Gareth Jones)