MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday he would seek re-election next year in a race he is poised to win easily, putting him on track to become the nation's longest-serving ruler since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
Putin's approval ratings regularly top 80 percent, making him all but certain to win the March election by a broad margin. While few doubted the 65-year-old leader would run, the delay in his declaring so fueled some conspiracy theories and was seen as the Kremlin's political maneuvering.
The president chose to make his re-election announcement at the GAZ automobile factory in the city of Nizhny Novgorod. The factory is a symbol of Russian's industrial might, and Putin found an enthusiastic audience in the blue-collar workers who make up the core of his base.
"I couldn't find a better place and moment," he said to massive applause at the plant. "Thank you for your support. I will run for president."
Putin has been in power in Russia since 2000. He served two presidential terms during 2000-2008, then shifted into the prime minister's seat because of term limits. As prime minister, he still called the shots while his ally, Dmitry Medvedev, served as the placeholder president.
Medvedev had the president's term extended to six years and then stepped down to let Putin reclaim the office in 2012.