If Putin seeks yet a fourth term, as expected, he would be leader of the Kremlin longer than anyone since dictator Josef Stalin.
Putin provoked widespread political unrest last year when he signaled his March run for a third term in the office he held for eight years until 2008. After he engineered the election of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to replace him four years ago and his own appointment as prime minister, he continued to dominate Russian politics.
Speaking to the lower house of parliament for the last time before his May 7 inauguration, Putin made it clear that the two-term limit he was endorsing "wouldn't be retroactive," meaning it wouldn't apply to him.
“As far as removing from the constitution two consecutive terms and making it just two terms -- I think it makes sense,” said the 59-year-old former KGB chief who casts himself as a virile corruption-buster with penchants for wrestling, hunting and fast cars.
Mindful of the stagnant leadership that resulted when Soviet Communist Party chiefs held office until they died, the drafters of the Russian Constitution barred presidents from serving more than two consecutive terms. Putin's four-year side trip to the prime minister's office allowed him to run for a third term as president last month, a political maneuver he seems intent on denying his successors.
Changes to the election laws under Medvedev extended what was previously a four-year presidential term to six. If Putin runs again for the highest office in 2018, as he has given every indication of doing, he would be president until 2024.
Putin would be only 71 after two more presidential terms, younger still than both Soviet-era leaders Stalin and Leonid Brezhnev when they died in office.
--Carol J. Williams in Los Angeles
Photo: Russian Prime Minister and President-elect Vladimir Putin speaks in the Duma, the Russian parliament's lower house, in Moscow on Wednesday, expressing support for limiting future Russian presidents to two terms. Credit: Ivan Sekretarev / Associated Press