Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a document signing ceremony in Moscow, Nov. 6, 2007. (MIKHAIL METZEL/AFP/Getty Images
MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia's constitution will be amended by year's end to extend the presidential term to six years, lawmakers promised Thursday - a move that could pave the way for Vladimir Putin's return to the Kremlin.
It would be the first change to the Russian constitution since its adoption in 1993. A six-year term could mean 12 more years as president for Putin - the current prime minister - who has not ruled out getting his old job back.
President Dmitry Medvedev, a Putin protege, had suggested raising the term from four years to six Wednesday in his first state of the nation address.
The respected business daily Vedomosti quoted an unnamed Kremlin official as saying Medvedev may even step down as early as next year to get Putin back at the helm.
"Under this scenario, Medvedev could resign early, citing changes to the constitution, and then presidential elections could take place in 2009," the paper said.
Spokesmen for Putin and Medvedev could not be reached Thursday. Vedomosti reported that Putin's spokesman denied that the term extension was designed was linked to Putin's return.
Work on the amendments has already begun in the State Duma, parliament's lower house, speaker Boris Gryzlov said Thursday.
As Russia's president for eight years, Putin had declined to amend the constitution to allow himself a third consecutive term or to extend the length of his term. Vedomosti said this unpopular task may have been given to Medvedev, a former law professor who professes deep respect for the law.
Regardless of his title, Putin has continued to wield significant power in Russia since leaving the Kremlin in May.
A constitutional amendment would require a two-thirds majority in the State Duma, the lower house, where pro-Kremlin parties dominate. It would then need to be approved by two-thirds of Russia's regional legislatures, which also would not be expected to pose any difficulties for the Kremlin.
While supporters in parliament said there was nothing undemocratic about a six-year presidential term, opposition leader Boris Nemtsov called the plan "extremely dangerous."
"It is directed at the perpetuation of Putinism," Nemtsov said at a news conference, defining Putinism as "corruption, inflation and international isolation."
Former chess champion Garry Kasparov, a prominent anti-Kremlin activist, said the move was a sign the Kremlin was afraid of Russia's increasingly emboldened opposition movement.