By Tom Balmforth and Andrew Osborn
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s parliamentary head told lawmakers on Thursday to rally behind Vladimir Putin against what he said was a foreign campaign to discredit constitutional reforms that could allow the president to stay in power until 2036.
Putin, who has been in power as president or prime minister since the turn of the century, would be cleared to run for president in 2024 under the proposed changes, overturning a constitutional ban which prevents him from doing so.
The changes must still be reviewed by the constitutional court and put to a public vote before they become law.
The 67-year-old president’s critics say he is brazenly engineering a way to stay as president for life, an allegation rejected by the Kremlin.
Some Russian opponents of the change have mocked Valentina Tereshkova, the lawmaker who proposed it, on social media.
Vyacheslav Volodin, the lower house’s speaker, told parliament that Tereshkova was being subjected to a campaign from abroad that was tantamount to an attack on Russia.
“We must … be decent, be patriots, be aware that the attacks against Tereshkova are attacks on our country,” Volodin told parliament.
“Today with all the challenges and threats in the world, it’s not oil and gas that give us our edge. As you can see, oil and gas prices can fall. It’s Putin who gives us our edge and we must protect him,” Volodin added.
Tereshkova’s amendment is now part of an array of constitutional reforms announced by Putin in January that were approved by the lower and upper houses of parliament and regional parliaments this week.
Putin is required to vacate the Kremlin when his second sequential presidential term and fourth overall, ends in 2024. The amendment would reset this tally, allowing him to run two more times.
Open Russia, a group financed by former oil tycoon and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, said seven activists had been detained in St Petersburg while protesting against the constitutional changes outside the local legislative assembly.
Andrey Pivovarov, an opposition activist, said that the state communications regulator, Roskomnadzor, had also blocked an opposition website campaigning against the constitutional amendments under the slogan “Nyet!”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Putin had not yet said whether he would run again in 2024 and would decide closer to the time.
Putin’s decision to acquiesce with the amendment was motivated by a turbulence in global affairs, including the outbreak of coronavirus, regional conflicts and the unpredictable and unacceptable behavior of some other countries, Peskov said.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Andrew Osborn; Editing by Alexander Smith)