Russian President Vladimir Putin, soaring in popularity as he boasts of the country's international power, is all but assured to win re-election in this Sunday's vote.
The Kremlin already barred opposition leader Alexey Navalny from the presidential election, a move that gives Putin an added boost at the polls. Navalny called the election a farce in January. He said, "It will feature only Putin and the candidates which he has personally selected.”
Yet people do run against Putin — some serious, some not.
One candidate is a journalist who named her campaign "No Fear" and has criticized Putin. Another candidate, a career politician, once ran a presidential platform that called for cheaper vodka for Russian men and better lingerie for Russian women. And a third candidate received death threats after he criticized Russia's aggressive foreign policy.
None of them garner more than 8% in Russian pre-election polling. Here's who is on the ballot:
The former journalist and reality TV star accused Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of holding on to power for almost two decades to benefit their business associates.
"I’m not afraid of Putin so I go and challenge him in the election," Sobchak said, adding that she named her campaign "No Fear" for a reason.
The 36-year-old liberal candidate from St. Petersburg was once a presenter and head judge on Russia's version of America's Next Top Model. During a visit to Washington last month Sobchak said she wants to show Russians they have a choice other than Putin. Polls give her 1.6% of the vote.
If elected Sobchak vows to cooperate with the United States, NATO and the European Union. During an appearance at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., she implored Russians to reject corruption and treat the Crimea Peninsula that Russia annexed in 2014 as a Ukrainian territory.
On Sunday, a staff member for the Moscow City Council doused her with water and knocked her to the ground after she threw water on candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky during a recent televised debate, the Associated Press reported.
Putin and his associates suppress the political opposition, which often does not have free access to major media outlets "because (the media outlets) all belong to the state," Sobchak said. "The only way to be heard is to go to the presidential campaign."
A candidate of the Russian All-People's Union, Baburin, 59, proposed in 2007 that the government pay each Russian citizen $150,000 as compensation for privatizing formerly state-owned enterprises after the fall of the Soviet Union. He now supports a return to Soviet-style social programs.
He wants to strengthen Russia's grip on Crimea through economic development. Baburin also vows to expand Russia’s role in an economic system with countries such as Brazil, India and China, so Russia isn't subjected to U.S. and European sanctions. Polls give Baburin less than 1% of the vote.
Grudinin, 57, owns a majority stake in the Lenin State Farm, a cooperative near Moscow. The industrial farm is Russia's largest strawberry producer and a rare remnant of the 27,000 state-owned collectives established during the Soviet era. Grudinin describes the socialist model as an antidote to corruption in modern Russia.
Grudinin told The Christian Science Monitor in September that unlike many of Russia's top business leaders, his company's executives do not send profits abroad or steal them. Instead they make investments in their employees’ schools, kindergartens and a medical clinic. Polls give Grudinin nearly 8% of the vote, according to Kremlin news agency Tass.
Zhirinovsky, 71, continues to tout some bizarre views as a career politician. When he ran for the presidency in 1993, he pledged Russian men would get cheaper vodka, Russian women would get better underwear and the nation would rebuild its empire.
During his 29-year political tenure, he vowed to create a dictatorship and reduce crime through summary executions, as well as expand Russia’s borders to include Alaska and Finland, and to blow radioactive waste into the Baltic states, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. Zhirinovsky leads the far-right Liberal Democratic Party of Russia.
In 2002, the nationalist used coarse language to attack then-U.S. president George W. Bush, his Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and women in general. He called Sobchak “a whore” after she doused him with water during a challengers’ debate that broadcast Feb. 28. Polls give Zhirinovsky nearly 6% of the vote.
Putin, 65, wants to secure a fourth term as Russia's president. As a KGB spy during the Soviet era, Putin maintained ties to organized crime, according to Karen Dawisha, author of Putin's Kleptocracy; Who Owns Russia? As Russia's president and leader since 2000, he made himself one of the wealthiest men in the world, with an estimated net worth of tens of billions of dollars, according to U.S. intelligence.
Putin, an economist with a judo blackbelt, cultivated a tough-guy image as he rode shirtless on horseback, helped treat a tranquilized tiger and a polar bear, and flew in an ultralight with migratory birds. Many of his critics and political opponents have died in mysterious circumstances.
Vacationing with Vladimir Putin
After his first two four-year terms as president, Putin was appointed prime minister in 2008, and then returned as president in 2012. The length of the presidential terms were then changed from four years to six.
Putin recently boasted about his new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), and other nuclear weapons under development. But Putin's aggressive policies in Ukraine, Syria and at home have made Russia the target of international sanctions, which hurts the economy. Polls give Putin, an independent, nearly 70% of the vote.
The leader of the little-known Communists of Russia party, Suraikin, 39, has called for a defense alliance styled on the Soviet-era Warsaw Pact. He wants to raise the minimum wage and pensions, according to the Moscow Times. He was trained as an engineer, ran a small computer company, and ran for governor of the Nizhny Novgorod region in 2014, when he won 2% of the vote, the AP reported. Polls give Suraikin less than 1% of the vote.
Titov, 57, told The Spectator he doesn’t expect to win, but hopes to use his candidacy to press Putin for better economic policies. He's the chairman of the pro-business Party for Growth, which aims to protect the right of Russia's growing middle class, according to Sputnik.
As the Russian government's Presidential Commissioner for Entrepreneurs' Rights, Titov has worked to repatriate Russian businessmen who were accused of crimes in Russia and fled to Britain to avoid prosecution. He has asked Putin to allow four of 16 people on the "London list" to return after they pay "compensation" to the government. On Tuesday, he said more people have asked to be added to the list, Tass reported.
Titov wants government to be more efficient. He seeks to eliminate regulations and unnecessary inspections that present opportunities for bribes. And he wants an economic stimulus with huge government spending. Polls give Titov less than 1% of the vote.
A liberal economist and former prime minister from the Yabloko Party, Yavlinsky is considered a true opposition candidate. He has opposed Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and garnered death threats from nationalists who call him a traitor, according to the Times of Israel. Yavlinsky, 65, called the election a carnival show and “electoral Halloween” because of the cast of characters on the ballot. He wants an honest government, where the president's favorite billionaires no longer enjoy favoritism in the media, access to economic spoils and legal immunity. Polls give Yavlinsky less than 1% of the vote.