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Putin does Russia 'a favour'

Vladimir Putin isn't ready to give up power.

After playing coy for weeks about whether he intends to seek another term as Russia's president, the 65-year-old officially threw his hat into the ring today.

Appearing at the historic GAZ automotive plant in Nizhny Novgorod, 400 kilometres east of Moscow, Putin took a question about his plans from a worker who begged him to "do us a favour" and declare his candidacy.

"I can't think of a better time or place to announce it — thank you for your support — I will run for the post of president of the Russian Federation,"' Putin responded, triggering loud cheers and chants of "GAZ is behind you!"

No one really expected Putin, who has effectively been running Russia since 1999, to step down. But the president seemed to be enjoying the fuss around his future.

RUSSIA PUTIN

Vladimir Putin thanks the audience for support as he takes part in the forum of Russian volunteers in Moscow on Wednesday. (Yuri Kochetkov/EPA-EFE)

At a Russian Volunteer Forum event in Moscow earlier in the day, he had entertained another question on the subject from a member of the 20,000-strong audience. He responded with a query of his own: "Will you, and people close to you, will you support this decision?" The cheers were deafening.

The election is expected to be held March 18. And the chances of anyone but Putin winning it seem slim.

Opinion polling — always a bit of a mug's game — is even less reliable in Russia, but the independent Levada Center found in its latest survey that 66 per cent of likely voters will back Putin. More notable, however, were its figures for his likely opponents, nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky and reformer Alexei Navalny, polling at 3 and 2 per cent, respectively.

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If he wins the election next year, it would be Putin's second consecutive term as president - the limit under Russian law. (Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters)

If he is to win, it would be Putin's second consecutive term as president — the limit under Russian law. Of course, the former intelligence agent found a way around that convention when Dmitry Medvedev, his trusted right-hand man, took the job between 2008 and 2012 while Putin served as his prime minister.

The bigger question might be Putin's motivation. Perhaps it's bragging rights: he is currently the second-longest-serving leader of modern Russia, behind Joseph Stalin.

Today in Moscow he spoke about "improving the lives" of ordinary Russians.

But there are other possibilities.

Putin has become very wealthy during his 18-plus years in power.

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Some estimate that Putin could be worth as much as $200 billion US. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

The only informed estimate — provided by a Kremlin insider back in 2007 — pegged his personal fortune at $40 billion US.

He reportedly has large interests in Russian oil and gas companies, as well as a healthy stake in a commodities firm that booked $93 billion US in revenue in 2012.

Some guess that Putin could be worth as much as $200 billion.

To put that in perspective, Bill Gates — the world's richest man, according to Forbes — has a net worth of $86 billion. (The magazine says it doesn't have hard information to estimate Putin's wealth.)

But even the 'modest' 2007 figure would put the Russian president among the top-10 richest people in the world.

Trump takes on Jerusalem

Donald Trump has said he wants to bring peace to the Middle East, but this week he seems bent on creating chaos.

The U.S. president has served notice that he intends to honour a campaign promise and move the United States Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

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Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip burn posters depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald Trump during a protest Wednesday. (Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)

This is something that many American politicians have talked about for a long time. Jimmy Carter made a similar promise in the 1976 campaign, and then backed away. Congress overwhelmingly passed a law in 1995, The Jerusalem Embassy Act, requiring an immediate relocation. Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama got around this by signing a national security waiver every six months.

For while moving the embassy would be popular with many Israel backers and the Christian right in the U.S., it would also be a highly provocative — and potentially dangerous — move.

Jerusalem has been occupied territory since Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan during the 1967 Six Day War, and annexed it in 1980, a claim not recognized internationally.

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The U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem has ordered staff and their families to stay away from Old Jerusalem and the West Bank, due to expected demonstrations. (Ammar Awad/Reuters)

The Palestinians seek East Jerusalem for their future capital. And it is holy ground for three of the world's major religions — Jews, Muslims and Christians. A status that does not necessarily lend itself to peace and goodwill — take the second intifada, for example, a five-year Palestinian uprising that kicked off in 2000 when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made a visit to Temple Mount.

Any actual move of the U.S. Embassy would be months away, but reaction to Trump's declaration has been swift and mostly unhappy.

Large demonstrations are anticipated, and the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem has ordered staff and their families to stay away from Old Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Qatar, the Arab League and the leaders of 57 Muslim countries have all registered their intense disapproval.

King Salman of Saudi Arabia, informed personally by Trump in a phone call, did not mince words. "Such a dangerous step is likely to inflame the passions of Muslims around the world due to the great status of Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque," he told the president, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

Pope Francis called for "wisdom and prudence," and said he has "deep worry" about the decision.

And Trump's choice is also unpopular with Western allies of the U.S.

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Jordanian Members of Parliament chant and hold signs with slogans such as, "We denounce and condemn the U.S. administration's reckless decision," during a protest in front of the U.S. Embassy in Amman on Wednesday. (Muhammad Hamed/Reuters)

President Emmanuel Macron of France spoke with Trump on Monday, reaffirming that "the status of Jerusalem must be resolved through peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians." This is a position that has long been central to an eventual "two-state solution."

And on Tuesday, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel warned that the decision might cause his country to "spell out where the limits" of its solidarity stand.

It all brings to mind a lesson delivered to a Canadian prime minister almost 40 years ago. Joe Clark promised to move the Canadian Embassy to Jerusalem during the 1979 election, and provoked an international crisis when he announced he intended to follow through just two days after taking office in June.

Joe Clark's diplomatic crisis4:54

Clark found a way out, however, by asking former Progressive Conservative leader Robert Stanfield to prepare a report on the issue.

Stanfield made an interim recommendation against the move that October, and the Clark government dropped the idea.

By the time the final report was delivered in early 1980, the government had fallen and another election was underway.

The position of the current Trudeau Liberals is that the Canadian Embassy will remain in Tel Aviv.

Canada's biggest disaster

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People sift through the debris after the Halifax explosion. (City of Toronto Archives)

It was 100 years ago today, on Dec. 6, 1917, that Halifax exploded.

The blast, the result of a collision between a Norwegian freighter and a French cargo ship laden with high explosives, levelled much of the port city.

Almost 550 buildings burned, 824 more collapsed and 1,249 others were wrecked beyond repair.

At least 2,000 people perished and 9,000 more were injured.

Check out this remarkable CBC 360-degree interactive which allows you to experience the explosion and its aftermath.

Quote of the moment

"He brought a piece of America into our national pantheon."

- French President Emmanuel Macron reacts to the death of rocker Johnny Hallyday, a.k.a. "France's Elvis," of cancer at age 74.

Obit Johnny Hallyday

What the National is reading

  • Newfoundland Premier wins injunction to block CBC story linked to murder trial. (CBC)
  • Arrests along Mexican border fall to lowest levels in decades under Trump. (Washington Post)
  • Hungary member of European Parliament charged with spying for Russia. (Deutsche Welle)
  • Bangladesh will relocate 100,000 Rohingya refugees to a flood-prone island. (CNN)
  • Snacking on bitter apricot kernels? You risk cyanide poisoning, warns Health Canada. (CBC)
  • Brain abnormalities found in victim of U.S. embassy attacks in Cuba. (Guardian)

Today in history

Dec. 6, 1956: Lorne Greene on holiday driving hazards.

"Yes, most everybody takes a holiday. Everybody but death," says CBC's holly, jolly Voice of Doom.