Putin says rule limiting him to two consecutive terms as president ‘can be abolished’

Russian president raised the prospect of dropping clause restricting ”two consecutive terms” – though confusion remained as to what exactly he meant by it.  

Putin says rule limiting him to two consecutive terms as president ‘can be abolished’

Vladimir Putin has suggested a constitutional rule limiting the number of consecutive presidential terms may be scrapped – potentially paving a way to him staying on in post.

But confusion remained about what exactly he meant by the comments, with others suggesting it was in fact a signal he would be leaving at the end of his current term.

According to the Russian constitution, the president is obliged to leave his post at the end of two successive terms. That would in theory mean the longtime leader leaving in 2024. Over the last few years, Moscow has been deep in speculation about how the president may choose to get around this restriction: a repeat of the switch he carried out with Dmitry Medvedev in 2008; a new role, perhaps as head of an overarching security council; even as head of a new unified state with Belarus.

Thursday's comments represented the first time he suggested the clause itself could be amended, or removed.

"Your humble servant completed two terms, then he left the post and had the constitutional right to return to the post of president — because it wasn't two successive terms," he said. "Some of our experts and public figures were bothered by that [clause]. We could, of course, remove it."

The remarks, which were made in the course of his traditional end-of-year televised news conference, seemed to be deliberately ambiguous. They could be interpreted in one of two ways: either removing the clause altogether, or removing the consecutive part, and even agreeing to stand down in 2024.

Margarita Simonyan, the uber-loyal editor of Kremlin-funded RT, said the comments should be interpreted as a signal that the president would not be seeking re-election. "If anyone doubted whether the Boss was going for another presidential term... he won't."

Konstantin Gaaze, a commentator and former government advisor agreed. Mr Putin had offered a "clear indication" that he did not intend to carry on as president past 2024, he said.

"Having talked about consecutive terms, it would be impossible for him in 2023 to turn around and say that he's staying," he told The Independent.

Mr Putin's annual press marathon, now in its 15th instalment, is the president’s annual opportunity to portray himself as a wise, radical, world leader.

Over the years, his conferences have grown in scope: both in duration and the number of journalists attending.

In its first outing, the show lasted a mere one and a half hours. Since 2004, they have stretched to three hours at a minimum. Today’s event lasted nearly four and a half hours, with a record 1895 journalists accredited.

The show is designed to play into the image of a president in control. Reducing the country's press corps to squealing in a battle for attention, the Kremlin keeps a tight grip on the narrative. Some of the questions are obviously vetted. Others are fielded from a largely obliging group of provincial press corps, thrilled for the chance to air regional issues.

Occasionally, however, a sharp question finds its way through.

This year, that honour fell to BBC Russian journalist Farida Rustamova, into who asked the president about the business dealings and state contracts of his two adult daughters. It appeared that the president had been tricked by the innocuous nature of the journalist's sign, which read "family." Mr Putin, who has refused to confirm the has any daughters, became visibly angry. He sidestepped the question and told the journalist to do "better" work.

As in previous years, the Russian president offered his compatriots a bright new future of motherhood and apple pie — with giant leaps forward in education, medicine and science. There was even a hint that New Year’s Eve may be made a national holiday.

It was also a convenient moment to shake a fist at the rest of the world, intent as it is on denying Russians that future.

Moscow faced problems internationally only because it was a force to be reckoned with, the president said. Sanctions against Russia were "politically-motivated." The World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) decision to ban Russian sportsmen from competing over doping was “unjust” decision that “flew in the face of common sense.” Russia had been "punished twice for the same thing," he said.

On Ukraine, the Russian president said he would not be moved on his pre-conditions for peace. There would be no revisiting of the Minsk-II peace deal signed in February 2015, he insisted. Many aspects of the agreement, signed while thousands of Ukrainian soldiers were trapped behind enemy lines, remain politically toxic in Kiev. Mr Putin understands this, but doubled down on the most controversial of the agreement's provisions — namely a constitutional change reflecting a “special status” for the conflict zone. This is a red line for the Ukrainians who fear it may be used to ferment instability elsewhere in the country.

"We keep saying that we need to fix the special status in the constitution,” Mr Putin said.

Later, Mr Putin rejected the very federal model he demanded of Ukraine. History showed it does not work, he said — in Russia, at the very least. He criticised the "revolutionary" Vladimir Lenin, who "undermined central command" ... and "allowed the country to fall apart."

The Russian president had more time for Stalin, however — the European Parliament was “wrong to equate Stalinism with Totalitarianism” — and for Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya’s volatile head of state accused of masterminding the deaths and torture of hundreds of gay men. Mr Kadyrov deserved to be honoured as a “Russian hero,” he said — and this despite fighting Russian soldiers in the Chechen wars.

As for his own historical legacy, which now may or may not be extended past 2024, Mr Putin refused to be drawn. It was not something he thought about, he insisted.

“I’ll leave it to the next generation to decide,” he said.

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