Vladimir Putin has signed a new law which allows him to run for the presidency of Russia two more times, meaning he could stay in office until 2036.
The law sets a two-term limit on the presidency, but it also resets Mr Putin’s record so that his four terms to date do not count. Therefore, he can run twice more once his current term ends in 2024.
Mr Putin first became president in 2000, then switched to the role of prime minister in 2008 before returning to the presidency in 2012.
The new law also lengthens presidential terms from four years to six.
Mr Putin, who is 68 years old, could now remain leader for even longer than 20th century dictator Joseph Stalin, who ruled the Soviet Union for more than two decades until his death in 1953.
The legislation formalises changes to Russia’s constitution, which got public approval in a national plebiscite last year. Election monitors said the week-long plebiscite was tainted by pressure on voters, propaganda, a lack of opposition and a lack of transparency.
Mr Putin has argued that resetting his term count will prevent other politicians from “darting their eyes in search for possible successors”.
The highest profile opposition figure in Russia, Alexei Navalny, was imprisoned in January after returning to the country, having recovered months after being poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent.
US intelligence concluded with “high confidence” that Russian intelligence officers were responsible for poisoning him.
Last month, the United States and European Union imposed new sanctions on Russian officials, including FSB Director Alexander Bortnikov, in response to Mr Navalny’s sickness and imprisonment.
“The Kremlin’s use of chemical weapons to silence a political opponent and intimidate others demonstrates its flagrant disregard for international norms,” US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said at the time.
“We join the European Union in condemning Alexei Navalny’s poisoning, as well as his arrest and imprisonment by the Russian government.”
Mr Navalny is currently on a hunger strike, demanding better medical treatment from his captors. Today Russia’s state penitentiary service announced he had been moved to a sanitary unit due to signs of “a respiratory illness, including a high fever”.
Meanwhile, there are mounting tensions on Russia’s border with Ukraine, where footage has shown tanks, artillery and as many as 4000 troops mobilising.
Russian officials have told the West to stay out of it and refrain from sending Ukraine military aid.
“No doubt such a scenario would lead to a further increase in tensions close to Russia’s borders,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
“Of course, this would call for additional measures from the Russian side to ensure its security.”
“I very much hope that they will not be ‘incited’ by politicians, who in turn will be ‘incited’ by the West, led by the United States,” added Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
“Russian President Putin said (this) not long ago, but this statement is still relevant today, that those who would try to start a new war in Donbas will destroy Ukraine.”
US President Joe Biden pledged support for Ukraine in his first phone call with the country’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, last Friday.
In a statement released by the White House, Mr Biden “affirmed the United States‘ unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression in the Donbass and Crimea”.