Putin beefs up protections for former Russian presidents

FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends his annual end-of-year news conference, held online in a video conference mode, at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia December 17, 2020. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS

MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin signed laws on Tuesday granting former Russian presidents expanded immunity from prosecution and allowing them to become senators for life in the upper house of parliament once they leave the Kremlin.

The new laws follow sweeping reforms of Russia’s political system initiated by Putin this year. Among other things, these allow him to run for two more six-year terms in the Kremlin if he chooses. He would otherwise have had to step down in 2024.

The reforms are being parsed for clues as to what Putin, 68, may do at the end of his current term, which is his second consecutive term and his fourth overall.

Former presidents were already entitled to immunity from prosecution for crimes committed while in office, but the new law grants them lifelong immunity and says they cannot be arrested, searched, questioned or prosecuted.

The new legislation also makes it harder to revoke a former president’s immunity.

Among other things, the process involves the upper house of parliament voting overwhelmingly to revoke it on the strength of accusations by the lower house that the president has committed treason or another serious crime.

The other laws signed by Putin allow presidents to name up to 30 senators to the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house, and to join the Council themselves once they have left office.

Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Polina Devitt; Editing by Alex Richardson and Mark Potter