MOSCOW: Yekaterina Duntsova, former Tv journalist flexes muscles to contest Russian presidential election against Vladimir Putin, being held in March. Putin was expected to be victorious with clear majority.

In an interview last month, 40-year-old Yekaterina Duntsova called for an end to the conflict in Ukraine and the release of political prisoners including opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

To formally enter the election, she submitted documents to officials at the Central Electoral Commission. Putin’s victory is widely seen as a foregone conclusion by supporters and opponents alike.

She now faces a major hurdle to obtain 300,000 signatures in support of her candidacy, from all across Russia, by Jan. 31.

But Yekaterina Duntsova corrected a reporter who asked her if she thought the authorities would actually allow her to stand.

“Why are we talking about permission if this is my right according to the law and I have that possibility and have the necessary qualities to put myself forward?” she replied.

“We are just moving according to the formula prescribed by federal law, and for that we don’t need anyone’s permission.”

Putin, 71, has been in power as president or prime minister since 1999 and is seeking another six-year term. With Navalny serving prison sentences totalling more than 30 years and other leading Kremlin critics either behind bars or outside the country because of the risk of arrest, there is no established opposition figure to challenge him.

Navalny’s supporters call the process a sham, saying the Kremlin, via the electoral commission, controls who can run and can easily manipulate the vote if needed with the help of an opaque electronic voting system. The Kremlin says Putin will win because he enjoys overwhelming public support, with opinion poll ratings of around 80%.

Putin announced earlier this month that he would run, but no other candidate has formally applied so far. Those backed by a political party only need 100,000 signatures.

In her interview with Reuters, Duntsova avoided using the word “war” to describe the Russia-Ukraine conflict, which Putin calls a “special military operation”, and acknowledged she was afraid.

“Any sane person taking this step would be afraid – but fear must not win,” she said.

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