Putin raised the idea of constitutional amendments last month, and lawmakers quickly gave tentative approval to his proposals for granting extra powers to parliament while maintaining a strong presidential authority.
The Russian leader's proposed amendments were widely seen as an effort by Putin to extend his grip on power after his current presidential term ends in 2024. But his draft didn't offer clues to how he might accomplish that goal, and the meeting of Putin's appointed working group did not shed light on why he is moving now to get the constitution changed.
Putin created the working group of lawyers, activists, politicians, cultural figures and athletes to discuss the revisions in parallel with lawmakers. While meeting with the group Thursday, he repeated that the amendments he is seeking only would take effect if Russia's citizens approved them in a nationwide vote.
“It's important for me that the bill on constitutional amendments becomes law only after the results of the all-Russia vote,” Putin said. “It should be a real plebiscite, and the citizens of Russia must be the authors of those amendments.”
To encourage participation, the vote will be held on a weekday that the government will declare as an official non-working day, Putin said. He didn't give the date, but officials previously said the vote might take place in April.
More than 500 proposed amendments were sent to parliament and the working group. Group members said they haven't discussed a proposal by the Russian Orthodox Church to add a reference to God to the constitution.
At the meeting, Putin's second encounter with the working group, some members offered their own ideas for amendments on top of those proposed by the president. One member suggested adding language to the constitution that defines a family as a union of a man and a woman, an idea in sync with Putin's opposition to same-sex marriages.
Putin said the suggested wording would violate the rights of families led by single parents, but the Russian leader reaffirmed his strong disapproval of gay parents. “As long as I remain the president, there will be no Parent No. 1 and Parent No. 2 here," he said. "There will be a mom and a dad.”
Another working group member suggested that the constitution refer to Russia's massive nuclear arsenal as a tool to deter aggression. Putin responded that even though the nuclear weapons play a key role now, future weapons could overtake them as a top deterrent.
He also used the suggestion as another opportunity to charge the United States wants to erode the deterrence potential of Russian nuclear weapons with its missile defense plans. Putin asserted that Russia's new hypersonic weapons render the U.S. missile shield useless "and the billions they spent on it have turned into a useless waste.”
The U.S. has repeatedly said that its missile defenses aren't intended to counter Russia's massive nuclear arsenals. The Kremlin has dismissed the assurances. Putin presented an array of prospective weapons in 2018 that he claimed were immune to interception.
They included the Avangard, a hypersonic glide vehicle the Russian military said could fly 27 times faster than the speed of sound, and the Poseidon, a nuclear-armed and atomic-powered underwater drone described as capable of creating a tsunami to slam an enemy coastline.
The first missile unit armed with the Avangard became operational in December, while the Poseidon is still under development. “Russia must clearly be a step ahead of all others in its defense potential, but I'm not sure whether we should put that in the constitution,” Putin said.