Moscow, Russia | AFP | Russian President Vladimir Putin has submitted to parliament a number of proposed constitutional changes, including amendments that mention God and stipulate that marriage is a union of a man and woman.
Putin unleashed a political storm in January by proposing an overhaul of the constitution, the first changes to the basic law since 1993.
Shortly afterwards, the lower house unanimously approved the constitutional reform bill in a first reading after less than two hours of debate.
Ahead of a second and key reading set for next week, Putin submitted new proposals running to 24 pages, State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said.
“The president’s amendments are the result of his dialogue with representatives of all factions (and) civil society,” he said in comments released by the State Duma, or lower house of parliament.
The proposed amendments enshrine the mention of Russians’ “faith in God” and also stipulate that marriage is a heterosexual union, deputy speaker Pyotr Tolstoy said.
Most Russians identify as Orthodox Christians, but Russia is officially a secular state.
The new amendments also ban giving away Russian territory, and any call promoting such a move would also be outlawed.
A member of a Kremlin-appointed constitutional working group, actor Vladimir Mashkov, has suggested that such an amendment would ensure that Russia keeps Crimea — which it annexed from Ukraine in 2014 — or the Kuril Islands — disputed with Japan for decades — even after Putin quits power.
– Historic truth –
The amendments also seek to protect historic truth.
The Russian leader has repeatedly railed against attempts to “rewrite” history and complained that the West does not fully appreciate the huge losses sustained by the Soviet Union during World War II.
Russia is set to hold large-scale celebrations this year, 75 years after the Allied victory over the Nazis.
Tolstoy praised the draft legislation.
“I believe that most of the proposals that have been discussed have been taken into account,” he told AFP, adding he was glad the president supported his heterosexual marriage proposal.
The 67-year-old Putin, who has dominated Russia for 20 years, has sought to cast himself as a defender of traditional values and rally support by promoting anti-Western and conservative ideas.
Putin’s fourth stint in the Kremlin has seen a strong pivot to more conservative policies, with groups promoting fundamentalist Orthodox Christian views gaining more legitimacy and liberal viewpoints attacked as Moscow’s relations with the West have soured.
The second reading of the constitutional reform bill is expected to take place on March 10, said a spokeswoman for Pavel Krasheninnikov, co-chief of the constitutional working group.
She said the text of the amendments was expected to be published later this week.
A public vote on the constitutional reforms has been set for April 22.
Analysts see Putin’s plan to change the constitution as beginning preparations for succession when his current term ends in 2024, while the opposition says the Kremlin strongman wants to remain leader for life.
The reforms will transfer some authority to parliament, including the power to choose the prime minister, and strengthen the role of an advisory body called the State Council, potentially headed by Putin.
More than 22,000 people rallied in central Moscow at the weekend to call on Putin not to stay in power indefinitely.
According to the Levada Center, an independent pollster, a quarter of Russians will back the constitutional proposals, while 56 percent said they were not sure why the changes were needed.