A FORMER TV journalist, mum and anti-war Russian planning to stand against Vladimir Putin in the 2024 election has been dubbed a tool of Western intelligence.
Brave Ekaterina Duntsova, 40, is expected to beat the tyrant by a landslide on her anti-war platform, although he will likely remain in power anyway.
The mum-of-three, who has no Moscow political experience, needs to bag 300,000 signatures by January 31 to formally register her candidacy in the elections.
Duntsova has been smeared with vicious allegations that she is an “agent of foreign intelligence services”, as she tries to take down Mad Vlad.
She is a fierce proponent for ending the war in Ukraine, and says that while corruption has become "the norm" under Vlad, it shouldn't be.
Duntsova is a proponent for peace and democracy – two things Putin's rule have not been summed up by.
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One of Putin's supporters, political analyst Sergey Markov, accused her of being an “ideal candidate” who was “specially selected…by political strategists of the US or British intelligence services.
"I just don’t know yet, the USA or Britain or both," he said.
And Kremlin-state media outlet RIA Novosti alleged that she had been linked to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man and a Putin enemy now exiled in Britain by an election committee member.
“I think the public association with Khodorkovsky is a hint as to why Duntsova might be denied registration,” said exiled journalist Dmitry Kolezev.
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But Kolezev still described her as “the main political discovery of the end of 2023”, and the only option not born from the Kremlin.
He said she fulfilled a strong desire in the country to have a different leader to Putin, who has been ruling Russia with an iron fist for decades.
But Putin is all but certain to win the no-doubt rigged election in 2024, despite his painfully slow grind in Ukraine that is coming up on two years.
People are dying every day, and I am sure they wanted to live. We all want to live, and we need peace.
Duntsova said of the war: "In February 2022, the current president announced the start of a special military operation.
"And now people are dying every day, and I am sure they wanted to live.
"We all want to live, and we need peace."
Amid the constant repression and even murder of those who speak out against the Russian state like Alexei Navalny and Boris Nemtsov, standing against Putin is no mean feat.
When asked if she was afraid of being imprisoned, she said "Of course, I have no illusions about these 'elections', and, like any normal person, I am afraid.
"But I have hope that Russia can be changed democratically."
She said that under Putin, "corruption is taken for granted, almost as a norm.
"But it is not the norm."
Duntsova also hit back at a reporter who asked if she would be allowed to stand in the sham elections.
“Why are we talking about permission if this is my right according to the law and I have that possibility and have the necessary qualities to put myself forward?" she replied.
"We are just moving according to the formula prescribed by federal law, and for that we don't need anyone's permission.”
Corruption is not the norm
Duntsova is also backed by her three children, Maria, 19, Sophia, 16, and Sylvester, ten.
The family live in Rzhev, a backwater town in Tver region on the rail line between Moscow and Latvian capital Riga.
The former journalist has degrees in law and television journalism and from 2006 to 2022 she was the editor-in-chief of the local television studio RiT.
Duntsova has a very different view to Vlad when it comes to the separation of Russia and Ukraine.
She thinks peace means living in harmony despite "religious, cultural and political differences", whereas Putin has consistently tried to absorb Ukraine into the Russian country and culture.
“Living in peace means respecting and loving each other, regardless of our religious, cultural and political differences.
“We need to re-learn how to talk and work together to solve the problems of our country."
Speaking of the blight faced by Russian civilians, many of whom have began to more fiercely criticise Putin's campaign in Ukraine, she said:
"[We have] poverty, when pensioners barely have enough to pay for utilities, food and medicine.
"Will the borders be closed? How many more waves of mobilisation will there be?
"Will we live better, richer lives? What is the future of our country….?
"I am running for president of Russia so that we all have a future and that we all together find it."
Her fresh approach and brave stand against the Russian state is likely a welcome breath of fresh air for many of the civilians living there now.
Just last week, the president faced a fresh embarrassment when he hosted his first TV call-in show since his failing war began.
The closely-regulated "Direct Line with Vladimir Putin" saw civilians and journalists ask him questions live on air.
Despite trying to talk his way out of some of the trickier lines of questioning, including some on falsely imprisoned Evan Gershkovich, Putin couldn't avoid this humiliation.
Messages from angry citizens popped up on a huge screen in front of him, asking: ''Why is your 'reality' at odds with our lived reality?" and telling him to "quit".
One even said: "Don't run for another term as Russian president – make way for the young!"
But the dictator will no doubt win again in the so-called elections scheduled for March next year.
He has twice changed Russia's constitution to extend his time in power, and could well sit at the head of the table until his mid-80s.
Since former president Boris Yeltsin handed him the keys in 1999, Putin has served as president for longer than any other Russian ruler with the exception of Josef Stalin.
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Incredibly, around 80 per cent of civilians approve of Putin's performance in power, according to a recent independent poll.
This could be more to do with the brutal crackdowns in Russia reserved for those who criticise the establishment.
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