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Putin signals possibility of seeking reelection if Russians back constitutional change

Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg. (The Kremlin/Released)

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

President Vladimir Putin has said that he would consider standing for election again if Russian voters approve a controversial constitutional amendment in a vote scheduled for next month.

Putin’s comments, broadcast on state-run TV on June 21, were the strongest indications to date of his intentions, and come just 10 days before the July 1 national vote.

“I have not made any decisions yet,” he said in comments excerpted by Russian news agencies. “I am not ruling out the possibility of running for office if the option appears in the constitution. We’ll see.”

Putin also suggested that finding a successor would potentially be a distraction if he chose not to run again. That’s a hint that the Kremlin either fears a succession struggle among rival factions were Putin to yield the post, or that in the Kremlin’s eyes there is no political figure capable of consolidating power.

“If this doesn’t happen, then in about two years — and I know this from personal experience — the normal rhythm of work of many parts of government will be replaced by a search for possible successors,” he was quoted as saying by RIA-Novosti.

In January, after months of hints from Kremlin-allied officials, Putin called for amending the constitution, to reshuffle the center of power-making in Moscow. But it wasn’t until March when he specifically backed a proposal to amend the constitution in order to give him possibility of staying on beyond the end of his current six-year term, which ends in 2024.

If approved by voters, and Putin does seek reelection, the change would mean Putin, now 67, could be in power until 2036. He is already the longest-serving Russian leader since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

First elected in 2000, Putin served two, four-year terms, then stepped aside and yielded the post to his protégé, Dmitry Medvedev. Medvedev served just one, four-year term, before Putin returned to the post in 2012, under new rules that allowed him to serve two, new, six-year terms.

Since winning his most recent election in 2018, Russia watchers and Kremlinologists have watched closely for signals from Putin, who has no real political rivals. His popularity has slipped in recent years, amid economic problems and the coronavirus pandemic, but polls regularly show him as the country’s most popular political figure.

The Kremlin had hoped to hold the vote on April 22, but the sweeping restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus forced its postponement until July 1.

The amendment that would give Putin the option to stay for two more six-year terms will be on the ballot along with others that are seen as an appeal to nationalist sentiments and nostalgic voters.