Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Thursday that he would run for re-election as an independent candidate, banking on the support of numerous political parties and the popular vote while casting doubt on the competence of his opposition.Putin was giving his annual press conference at the WTC Congress Centre in Moscow -- his first major public appearance since announcing he would seek a new six-year term in the March 2018 elections, Sputnik news agency reported."I'm going to be self-nominated, but of course I do hope for the support of the social forces, be that parties or social organisations that share my views on the development of the country and I do hope for the broad support of our citizens," Putin said. The President has long been associated with the United Russia political party, whose big-tent nationalism lays claim to three-quarters of the seats in the State Duma.At the helm of the Kremlin for the last 17 years, Putin acknowledged that there were problems to be addressed in Russian society but began his conference praising a list of government achievements, ranging from higher average life expectancy to strong armed forces and sweeping tax reductions, Efe news reported.
He also cast doubt on the credibility of his political opposition. "I think the most important question for the opposition is how to come up not just with a noisy agenda but a realistic agenda, something to gain the trust of the people," Putin said. Russian lawyer and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny has emerged as one of Putin's most prominent challengers, although his ability to run in the presidential elections is uncertain due to criminal convictions.Putin was appointed as acting Prime Minister in 1999 as Boris Yeltsin stood down. He later became President in 2000 and has since alternated between the roles until the current day. He also accused opponents of his US counterpart Donald Trump of harming Washington by "inventing stories" about contacts with Moscow.The Trump presidential campaign is being investigated for collusion with Russia and US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia tried to sway the 2016 election in favour of Trump, but Putin denies the allegations."It's all invented by those in opposition to Trump to make his work seem illegitimate," Putin said.Talking about Pyongyang, Putin said that "the US had already used nukes unreasonably in Japan, no need for that in North Korea". He stressed that the consequences of a strike on Pyongyang would be catastrophic.The Russian President is known for his marathon performances at his press conferences where he frequently uses hard-hitting, colourful language. The record for a Putin news conference was set in 2008, at four hours 40 minutes.This year's conference, which is still going on, has also set a record, with 1,640 journalists said to be accredited for the event.