Russian lawmakers have set the date of the country's 2024 presidential election, moving Vladimir Putin a step closer to a fifth term in office.
Members of the Federation Council, Russia's upper house of parliament, voted unanimously on Thursday to approve a decree setting the date of the election for March 17.
Putin, 71, has not yet said if he plans to run for president again, but is widely expected to do so in the coming days now that the date has been set.
Speaker of the Federation Council Valentina Matviyenko said: "In essence, this decision marks the start of the election campaign."
Russia's central election commission is to hold a meeting on the presidential campaign on Friday.
Putin’s victory in the March election is all but assured after he established tight control over Russia’s political system.
Prominent critics who could challenge him on the ballot are either in jail or living abroad and most independent media have been banned.
Putin is eligible to seek two more six-year terms after his current one expires next year due to constitutional reforms he orchestrated, potentially allowing him to remain in power until 2036.
The president still has high approval ratings reported by independent pollsters despite the costly, drawn-out war in Ukraine and a failed rebellion last summer by mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin.
It is unclear who will challenge Putin at the ballot although two people have announced plans to run.
Former legislator Boris Nadezhdin, who holds a seat on a municipal council in the Moscow region, and journalist and lawyer Yekaterina Duntsova, from the Tver region, north of Moscow plan to stand against Putin.
But for both getting on the ballot could be an uphill battle.
Unless one of five political parties that have seats in the State Duma, Russia's lower house, nominates them as their candidate, they would have to gather tens of thousands of signatures across multiple regions.