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Putin suggests he will work on a farm if he loses election

Russian President Vladimir Putin, foreground, sits inside a combine simulator as he visits the Rostselmash agricultural equipment company in Rostov-on-Don on Feb. 1. (Alexei Druzhinin/Pool/Sputnik/Kremlin/AP)

Vladimir Putin visited an agricultural equipment factory Thursday — and quipped that if he were to lose upcoming elections, he might choose a new career in farming.

The Russian president made the comments while sitting in a combine harvester simulator at a Rostselmash factory in Rostov-on-Don. If things didn’t go well in the upcoming election, “I’ll start work as a combine driver after March 18,” Putin said, according to footage published by state-funded news network RT.

“No problem, no problem at all,” Konstantin Babkin, chief executive of Rostselmash, responded.

Putin may not have reason to worry. Last year, he became the longest-serving Kremlin leader since Joseph Stalin, and though he delayed his announcement about whether he would run in the upcoming elections until December, polls suggest he has little real opposition.

The most recent data from VTsIOM, for example, shows that 69.9 percent of Russians say they will vote for the incumbent president in March’s election. According to VTsIOM’s polling, Putin’s closest competitor is Pavel Grudinin, a candidate for Russia’s Communist Party, who has about 6 percent of the vote.

Russia’s most prominent Putin critic, Alexei Navalny, is barred from the ballot, and there is a split among opposition voters about tactics. While some want to boycott the ballot to undermine its legitimacy, other liberals plan to vote for government critics like Grudinin or journalist Ksenia Sobchak.

In a rare instance Friday, Russia’s Central Election Commission criticized Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov for speaking in Putin’s favor ahead of the election.

“The level of Putin’s popularity goes far beyond the borders of Russia. Hardly anyone can question Putin’s being the absolute leader of the public opinion, the absolute leader of the political pinnacle that hardly anyone can compete with seriously at the present stage,” Peskov said of Putin on Monday, according to state news agency Tass.

Peskov subsequently apologized for his statement and said he would be more cautious in the future.

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