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Putin urges Russians to vote for constitutional changes that could extend his rule

Russia's President Vladimir Putin. (Alexei Nikolsky/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS/Abaca Press/TNS)

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

President Vladimir Putin has made a last-ditch appeal to Russians to vote for controversial amendments to the constitution that among other things would allow him to stay in power until 2036.

“We are not just voting for amendments. We are voting for the country in which we want to live…for a country for whose sake we are working and want to pass onto our children,” Putin said in a televised address on June 30, a day before the weeklong balloting ends.

Speaking in front of a monument he had just unveiled with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to honor Soviet soldiers who died in a battle during World War II near the western Russian city of Rzhev, Putin also said the proposed constitutional changes would help “reinforce” Russia’s traditional “values and principles.”

However, he made no mention of how the sweeping constitutional reforms, which have sparked sharp criticism from opposition members and human rights groups who see them as an attempt at a power grab by Putin, could affect his own career.

Under the current rules, the president is forbidden from seeking a third consecutive six-year term.

But if the constitutional changes are approved, Putin’s term-limit clock would be reset to zero — opening the way for him to run for reelection when his current term expires in 2024, and again in 2030.

The 67-year-old Russian leader has already been in power as president or prime minister for the past two decades.

Voting stations opened on June 25 for a week to help avoid crowds on July 1, the day designated for the vote, as Russia continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic. The vote was postponed from its originally scheduled date of April 22 due to the outbreak.

There is no minimum turnout required to make the vote valid, but analysts say the Kremlin fears a low turnout could undermine the perceived legitimacy of the constitutional changes.