Vladimir Putin has not yet officially said whether he intends to run in the Russian presidential elections scheduled for March next year. But he's already got a challenger: A 40-year-old divorced mother of three.

Calls for democratic reforms

Ekaterina Duntsova has a background as a journalist and politician at the local level. She was born in Siberia, but today lives in a small town in the Tver region outside Moscow. Now she has started a campaign page where she demands that Russia release political prisoners, introduce democratic reforms and end the war in Ukraine.

"I love our country and want Russia to become a democratic, prosperous and peaceful nation," she wrote in a post on Telegram.

But Duntsova, an independent candidate with a clear anti-war line, is likely to face a wall of resistance.

"Russian elections are a controlled affair that delivers the results that the powers that be want. Even more so in a state of war where the tolerance from above for criticism or instability is completely gone, says SVT's foreign reporter Carl Fridh Kleberg.

Ignored by state media

To be allowed to run, at least one group of at least 500 initiators must gather for a physical meeting where Duntsova is nominated as their candidate. In addition, she must manage to collect at least 300,000 signatures. State-controlled media in Russia are ignoring her.

Critics usually argue that independent candidates are often promoted by those in power ahead of Russian presidential elections, in order to give the elections a shimmer of legitimacy. Duntsova, however, denied to the Reuters news agency that she had any support from the Kremlin.

"As far as anyone can tell, Putin would win the election even without cheating. Despite the fact that support for Putin has gone up and down, he can still be said to be popular among a majority of Russians, even if opinion polls must be taken with a hefty scoop of salt, says Carl Fridh Kleberg.