Explainer-Key challenges facing Putin if he gets a new six-year term

Russia's President Putin attends an awarding ceremony in Moscow

By Mark Trevelyan

(Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he will seek another six years in the Kremlin by standing in an election in March where his victory is widely assumed to be a foregone conclusion.

Here are some of the key choices and challenges he will face in a new term.


After more than 21 months of war, Russia's forces control more than a sixth of Ukraine's territory. The frontline has not shifted significantly in the past year as the conflict has settled into a war of attrition.

Putin's ultimate objective remains unclear. He failed in an initial attempt to take the capital and remove the Ukrainian leadership when Russian forces were beaten back from Kyiv. Since then he has declared four Ukrainian regions to be part of Russia, but only partly controls those territories.

Some analysts say Putin appears to believe that time is on his side: Moscow hopes Western resolve to arm and fund Ukraine will fade, especially if next year's U.S. presidential election returns Donald Trump to the White House.

If he chose to escalate, Putin could exploit the fact that Russia has deeper manpower reserves than Ukraine by declaring a new round of mobilisation on top of the call-up of 300,000 men that he ordered in September last year. The first wave was chaotic and unpopular, however, prompting hundreds of thousands of Russians to flee abroad, and the Kremlin has repeatedly said there is no need for a second round.

Alternatively Putin could allow the war to settle into a "frozen conflict" in which Russia would try to keep Ukraine in a chokehold by occupying the south and east of the country indefinitely.


Putin's decision to go to war in Ukraine has ruptured relations with the West. He has moved closer to China and India as part of a drive to break U.S. dominance in international relations and build what he calls a "multipolar world", and is also cultivating ties with Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. Putin has held meetings in recent months with the leaders of North Korea and Iran, two countries that share his hostility towards the United States and have the capacity to supply his army in Ukraine. A new Putin term is likely to see increased emphasis on Russia's ties with the expanding BRICS group of countries, which Moscow is looking to develop beyond trade to include new areas such as cooperation in space and an Olympics-style BRICS Games.


With his conventional forces bogged down in Ukraine by a smaller but highly motivated, Western-armed opponent, Putin has repeatedly talked up the size and capabilities of Russia's nuclear arsenal. He has held out the possibility that Russia could resume nuclear testing for the first time since the Soviet Union did so in 1990, although Moscow says it will not test unless the United States does. Prospects currently look dim for an extension or successor treaty to the New START agreement that limits the numbers of strategic warheads that Russia and the United States can deploy. It is the last remaining nuclear arms control pact between the two countries and is due to expire in February 2026, less than two years into a new Putin term.


Russia has lost most of its lucrative energy market in Europe since the start of the war. To compensate, Moscow is counting on three major new projects:

- A new "gas hub" in Turkey to enable Russia to reroute its gas exports

- A new pipeline, the Power of Siberia 2, to bring another 50 billion cubic metres a year of Russian gas to China via Mongolia

- An expansion of the Northern Sea Route, made possible by the melting of Arctic sea ice, to link Murmansk near Russia's border with Norway to the Bering Strait near Alaska.

Progress on these in a new Putin term will be an important measure of how far he can succeed in blunting the effect of Western sanctions and pivoting Russian trade eastwards.


Putin frequently boasts of Russia's resilience in the face of Western sanctions. Gross domestic product (GDP) was up 5% year-on-year in October, but the growth largely stems from a massive increase in military production. Defence and security are set to swallow up about 40% of next year's budget spending, squeezing out other priorities such as education and health. Hundreds of thousands of Russians, including many young professionals and IT specialists, have fled the country since the start of the war, leading to labour shortages in key industries. Inflation is above 7% and interest rates are at 15%. For much of his rule, Putin was able to boost his appeal to Russians by driving up living standards, but now he faces a challenge to prevent these from being eroded.


Putin turned 71 in October and would be 77 by the end of a new term - though that is still younger than U.S. President Joe Biden was when he was sworn in. Some of the leading figures in Putin's circle are older than he is, including FSB security chief Alexander Bortnikov (72), Security Council head Nikolai Patrushev (72) and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (73). Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (68) has remained in his post despite fierce criticism from some pro-war commentators over Russia's military failings in Ukraine. Putin has long shown himself to be reluctant to shake up his team, and critics have accused him of prizing loyalty over competence. Nevertheless some changes may be forced on him in his next term. Younger figures to watch include parliament speaker Vyacheslav Volodin (59), agriculture minister Dmitry Patrushev (46) and Putin's former bodyguard Alexei Dyumin (51), the governor of the region of Tula.

(Reporting by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Gareth Jones, Mike Collett-White, William Maclean)