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Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov / Getty Images

Russia's 2018 presidential elections are rapidly approaching and Vladimir Putin has some, at least nominal, competition. The election committee has registered eight total candidates for the the March 18 vote.

Why it matters, from Axios' Steve LeVine: This election won't be competitive, but it could be Putin's last and he needs a big finish to burnish his legacy as a modern-day czar. Putin depends on the support of the Russian people and is trying to put the uprising in 2012 behind him. In his current term, Putin has relied on the fumes of nationalism and xenophobia to buttress his popular support and put the relatively minor uprising in 2012 behind him. Expect him to pivot, possibly toward serious domestic challenges, ahead of his next, and possibly final, 6-year term.

The challengers

PAVEL GRUDININ

  • The 57-year-old CEO of a formerly state-run produce farm is the Communist Party's pick for president. Grudinin has been publicly critical of Russia's political and economic structure, without openly criticizing Putin. His nomination has been seen as an attempt from the Communists to appeal to younger voters and lighten the harsh reputation of the party.

KSENIA SOBCHAK

  • Sobchak, 36, is a former reality TV star-turned news anchor with millions of social media followers. In an interview with NPR, she said that she knows she doesn't have a good chance at beating Putin and called the elections "kind of fake."

VLADIMIR ZHIRINOVSKY

  • Meet the man who said he won't believe claims that Russia meddled in the US election unless the US helps him win this election, according to RT. 71-year-old Vladimir Zhirinovsky is the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party. He ran five times before but never received more than 10% of the vote.

GRIGORY YAVLINSKY

  • The 65-year-old liberal is running as a member of one of Russia's oldest parties, Yabloko. He's expressed his goal of fixing economic problems that have grown since the annexation of Crimea and calling for political freedoms, however critics say Yavlinsky lacks charisma.

BORIS TITOV

  • The 57-year-old businessman and first-time candidate has served as Putin's Business Ombudsman since 2012. Titov is the candidate for the Party of Growth. His platform focuses on creating a more favorable business environment.

SERGEI BABURIN

  • Baburin is a legal expert who is known for opposing the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991. Since departing Russian politics in 2007, he has served as a rector for Moscow University and was nominated to run for president by a fringe nationalist party.

MAXIM SURAIKIN

  • A self-described "Leninist-Stalinist," the 39-year-old wants to revive the USSR, per the BBC. Suraikin represents the Communist for Russia party. He studied engineering and unsuccessfully ran for governor of the Nizhny Novgorod region.

Notable: Opposition leader and Putin critic Alexei Navalny, has been barred from running for president because of a criminal conviction that he and many of his supporters claim is politically motivated.

Go deeper

1 hour ago - Health

Meta removes over 600 accounts linked to COVID disinformation effort by China

Facebook's corporate headquarters campus in Menlo Park, California. Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

Meta announced Wednesday it has removed over 600 Facebook and Instagram accounts linked to a Chinese influence operation that claimed the U.S. was pressuring the World Health Organization (WHO) to blame COVID on China.

Why it matters: Though Meta said the network was unsuccessful, it marks yet another COVID disinformation campaign instigated by China in an effort to discredit the U.S.

Stacey Abrams launches second campaign for Georgia governor

Photo: Eze Amos/Getty Images

Stacey Abrams, voting rights activist and former 2018 candidate for Georgia governor, is running for the position again in 2022. Abrams would be the first Black female governor in the country.

Why it matters: Abrams caught national attention in 2018 by narrowly losing an election to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in a state held firmly by the GOP for nearly two decades.

First known U.S. case of Omicron variant identified in California

Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks during the daily briefing at the White House on Dec. 1. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

The first known U.S. case of the Omicron variant was detected in California, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Wednesday.

Driving the news: The confirmed case was detected in a traveler returning from South Africa who was fully vaccinated and has mild symptoms, according to the CDC.

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