MOSCOW (AP) — Vladimir Putin, the man who will become Russia's president for a third term next month, indicated Wednesday he would back a law that bars others from doing what he did, ruling as president more than twice.
But Putin also suggested such a law would not apply to himself, leaving open the possibility that he could run for a fourth presidential term in 2018.
The Russian Constitution now bars a person from being president for more than two consecutive terms. Putin was Russia's president from 2000 to 2008 — in two four-year terms — but had to step down to avoid the issue of consecutive terms. He did not step far away — becoming the country's prime minister and remaining Russia's most powerful leader despite the title change.
But because of that "consecutive" clause, Putin was able to run for a third term in the March president vote. He won amid an unprecedented wave of street protests stemming from allegations of widespread vote rigging in December's parliamentary election and will be sworn in on May 7.
In addition, while Putin was prime minister, his placeholder, Dmitry Medvedev, pushed a law through Parliament changing the presidential term from four to six years, so Putin will now rule until 2018.
On Wednesday, during a Q&A session in Parliament, Putin said it would be "reasonable" to remove the mention of consecutive terms. But he added that this would not affect him because such a legislation cannot be retroactive — implying that his third term would considered his first term under the new law.
"Once it's passed, I will have a chance to work for the next two terms. There's no problem here," he said in televised remarks.
When the prime minister was asked shortly before the March vote whether he thought it was ethical of him to run for a third term, Putin said he saw no reason not to run because the law allowed it.
A few hours before his annual speech to Parliament, several opposition activists were detained outside the Parliament building when they attempted to stage an unsanctioned rally.
In his speech, Putin pledged to improve Russia's dismal investment climate, calling it crucial for the country's development. He promised his new government would submit legislation to make Russia more business-friendly before the end of the year and introduce the position of an ombudsman to champion investors' rights.
"We won't be able to tackle any issue in the economy or social sphere unless we fix the situation with the business climate," Putin said in his annual address.
Russia's gross domestic product grew 4.3 percent last year, but Russia also recorded a capital outflow of $84 billion, which signals domestic and foreign investors' decreasing confidence in the future of the economy.
Investors have long complained about corruption and extensive bureaucracy that hampers investment. Medvedev, the outgoing president, made the investment climate a priority of his rule but his policies have not achieved any tangible results.
In an apparent reference to opposition protests, Putin urged political parties to work together for the good of the country, saying unity is necessary to further development.
During his presidential campaign, Putin had promised higher wages and benefits for soldiers, doctors and teachers. Analysts estimated those measures could cost about $160 billion over his six-year term.
Economists say the government can afford the extra spending as long as the price of oil remains high. In response to a lawmaker's question, Putin insisted Wednesday that all of his promises had been well thought out and were sustainable with oil prices at $70 per barrel.
The current price of Brent crude oil is currently $120 per barrel.
Putin shrugged off complaints from the opposition Just Russia faction over a mayoral election in the southern city of Astrakhan, which Just Russia candidate Oleg Shein said was rigged.
Putin advised Shein, who has been on a hunger strike for 27 days in protest, to go to court instead. His remarks prompted Just Russia lawmakers to walk out in protest.
Associated Press writer Vladimir Isachenkov contributed to this report.