Vladimir Putin has said he is open to altering Russia’s constitution, including enhancing the power of parliament and restricting the number of presidential terms, amid speculation that the veteran leader may seek to remain in power beyond his current term.
Mr Putin, who has governed Russia since 2000, must step down as president in 2024 under the present constitution, but some political analysts have suggested he may seek to extend his rule, potentially in the role of a prime minister with beefed-up powers.
The constitution “is a living tool, it must correspond to the level of development of society. Everything, in principle, can be changed in one way or another,” Mr Putin said at his annual end-of-year press conference. “But this can be done only after good preparation and deep discussion in society, and very carefully.”
At the more than four hour-long press conference, which is highly choreographed and often used to make prepared public statements, Mr Putin commented on topics ranging from climate change and relations with the US to local hospitals and crumbling homes for veterans.
He said he believed impeachment charges against US president Donald Trump were “completely fabricated” and that Mr Trump would survive the process. He also warned that attempts by Ukraine to revise the 2015 Minsk agreement peace deal between the two countries could mean “a complete dead end” for recently renewed attempts to end a more than five-year conflict in the east of the country.
Mr Putin, 67, previously served two four-year terms as president before engineering a job swap with his prime minister Dmitry Medvedev in 2008. In an orchestrated move, Mr Medvedev then stood down in 2012, allowing Mr Putin to win the election that year after changing the constitution to extend presidential terms to six years.
The decision by Mr Medvedev and Mr Putin to allow the latter to come back as president sparked mass protests in Russia by citizens who felt the men had manipulated the country’s democracy.
Mr Putin said on Thursday that he was aware of discussions in Russia involving “the possible extension of the rights of parliament, with a certain change in the prerogatives of both the president and the government”.
Some critics have suggested that alternative options could include altering the constitution to allow him a third term as president, or potentially creating a new role for Mr Putin heading a proposed joint state between Russia and neighbouring Belarus.
The idea of deepening integration between the two countries was first raised in 1996 but has been pushed by the Kremlin in recent years despite resistance from Minsk.
Mr Putin also said that he was open to the idea of changing the constitution to prevent any future president doing what he did in 2012 and ruling for more than two terms.
“Your humble servant served two terms consecutively, then left his post and had the constitutional right to return to the post of president, because these were not two successive terms,” he added. “It troubles some of our political analysts and public figures. Well, maybe it could be removed.”
During the press conference, in which he made rare comments regarding his two adult daughters, Mr Putin also said that he saw no reason why a woman could not succeed him as president. The statement may increase speculation that one of his daughters could be being groomed as a successor.
“In terms of leadership, well you have the same eligibility criteria,” he told a female journalist. “We cannot have different rules for women or men. You just have to be a decent person, and be qualified. Women can bring a female side, less aggression. And that will certainly be in demand.”