Vladimir Putin will run for president again as an independent candidate with a wide support base but not on a party ticket, Russian news agencies reported on Saturday, citing his supporters.

An initiative group made up of over 700 politicians and figures from the sporting and cultural worlds met on Saturday in Moscow and unanimously endorsed Putin’s nomination as an independent candidate, Russian news agencies said.

Putin, who has been in power as either president or prime minister for more than two decades, has announced he will seek another six-year term in March next year in an election he is comfortably expected to win.

Putin will not run as a candidate for the ruling United Russia (UR) party even though he has its complete support but as an independent candidate, Andrei Turchak, a senior UR party official, was cited as saying by the RIA news agency.

“More than 3.5 million party members and supporters will actively take part in the election campaign,” RIA quoted Turchak as saying, noting that Putin had been one of the founders of United Russia.

Sergei Mironov, a senior politician from the Just Russia party who supports Putin, was also quoted by RIA as saying Putin would run as an independent and that signatures would be gathered in his support.

For Putin, 71, the election is a formality: with the support of the state, the state-run media and almost no mainstream public dissent, he is certain to win.

Supporters of Putin say he has restored order, national pride, and some of the clout Russia lost during the chaos of the Soviet collapse and that his war in Ukraine – something Putin calls a “special military operation” – is justified.

A years-long crackdown on opponents and critics bolstered by sweeping new laws on “fake news” and “discrediting the army” has seen critics and opponents of the war handed long jail terms or flee abroad as the room for dissent has steadily shrunk.