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Putin says he rejects Soviet-style leaders for life

Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Kremlin/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he would not like to see his country return to the Soviet practice of having lifelong rulers who died without a clear succession procedure.

Speaking to a group of World War II veterans in St. Petersburg on January 18, Putin was asked if it would be desirable to remove the term limit for presidents.

“It would be very worrying to return to the situation we had in the mid-1980s when state leaders stayed in power, one by one, until the end of their days and left office without ensuring the necessary conditions for a transition of power,” Putin said. “I think it would be better not to return to that situation.”

Putin, who has held power in Russia either as president or prime minister since 2000, is currently serving his fourth term as president. Russia is in the midst of a fevered discussion of what will happen when his current term ends in 2024 because he is not eligible to run again under the current constitution, which limits presidents to two consecutive terms.

In his state-of-the-nation address on January 15, Putin, 67, proposed a raft of constitutional changes that, if adopted, could offer him various strategies for retaining power after his term ends, including by heading an enhanced State Council.

Putin also told the veterans that Russia plans to open an archival center devoted to the history of World War II.

“We will put a sock in the rotten mouths that some people abroad keep opening to achieve immediate political goals,” he said. “We will shut them up with true, basic information.”

“We will put a sock in the mouths of all those who are trying to twist history, to misrepresent it, to belittle the role of our fathers and grandfathers, of our heroes who fell dead defending their motherland and actually the whole world from the brown plague,” he said, referring to the danger of fascism.

“We will shut those rotten mouths forever with those documents in order to teach them a lesson,” he concluded.

Russia has been locked in a war of words in recent weeks with Poland over the history of the war, including Soviet actions under the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the Soviet occupation of Poland and much of Central Europe after the war.

“We respect soldiers’ blood sacrifice in the fight vs. Nazism,” Poland’s Foreign Ministry posted on Twitter on January 18. “But in ’45 Stalin’s regime brought [Poland] terror, atrocities, and economic exploitation.”

The ministry also said that “unless [Russia] accepts its own difficult history, Europe would be under threat. Whitewashing Soviet crimes of the past is a threat for today.”