Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday opened the door to constitutional changes that would allow him to remain in power until 2036 if he chose to do so, despite saying he had misgivings about the legal amendments.
Putin, who in January unveiled a major shake-up of Russian politics and a constitutional overhaul, is required by the constitution to step down in 2024 when his second sequential and fourth presidential term ends.
But addressing the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, Putin on Tuesday gave what he suggested was his reluctant blessing to a proposed change to the constitution that would formally reset his presidential term tally to zero.
"The proposal to remove restrictions for any person, including the incumbent president ... In principle, this option would be possible, but on one condition — if the constitutional court gives an official ruling that such an amendment would not contradict the principles and main provisions of the constitution," Putin said.
The move, if adopted and backed in a nationwide vote on April, would allow him to serve another two back-to-back six year terms. If he chose to do that, and his health and electoral fortunes allowed, he could stay in office until 2036 at which point he would be 83.
A former KGB officer, Putin, 67, has served four presidential terms in total and also done a stint as prime minister, dominating the Russian political landscape for two decades.
Critics have accused him of plotting to use changes to the constitution to extend his rule beyond 2024. Putin has not spelled out what his plans are after that date however, but has said he does not favour the Soviet-era practice of having leaders for life who die in office.
Putin appeared before parliament on Tuesday after Valentina Tereshkova, a lawmaker from the ruling United Russia party and the first woman in space, told parliament she was proposing amending the constitution in a way that would reset his presidential term count back to zero.
The proposal came as parliament was examining and preparing to vote on Putin's constitutional shake-up in its second of three readings, something it later did, approving it.
Another ruling party lawmaker on Tuesday proposed holding snap parliamentary elections, currently scheduled for September 2021, once the constitutional reform was out of the way.
Putin was cool to that idea however, saying he saw no need to hold snap elections if there were no disagreements in the existing parliament.