MOSCOW – Vladimir Putin has said he won't remain Russia's president for life and will step down in line with the constitution no later than 2024, according to an interview with a Russian news agency released Sunday.
Staying in office beyond that would be "detrimental for the country and I don't need this," he told the Tass news agency.
Putin, 62, has effectively led Russia since he was first elected in 2000. He stepped aside after two four-year terms to abide by constitutional term limits, but retained power as prime minister and was elected president again in 2012 to a six-year term.
Putin said his decision on whether to run for a fourth term in 2018 will depend on the situation in the country and his "own mood."
Throughout the interview, Putin described efforts at home and abroad that he said were aimed at trying to undermine his rule.
He said the Western sanctions against Russian individuals and businesses over Ukraine were an attempt to punish his friends and were "driven by a desire to cause a split in the elite and then, perhaps, in society." But to the West's chagrin, Putin said, Russian society remained consolidated behind him.
He described Russian laws that restrict foreign funding of non-governmental organizations and foreign ownership of media organizations as necessary to prevent outside interests from influencing Russian politics.
Putin acknowledged that not all Russians support him, which he said was fine as long as their criticism was constructive and they didn't violate the law. But he said his government would crush anyone who tried to weaken the state, describing them as "bacteria."
"They sit inside you, these bacilli, these bacteria, they are there all of the time," Putin said. "But when an organism is strong, you can always keep back the flu because of your immune system."
He said it was wrong to see U.S. newspapers as independent just because they were able to criticize President Barack Obama, suggesting he saw the press as a political tool.
"How can it be independent if it works together with the political opponents of the White House chief?" Putin said. "There is no independence; there is full dependence and the servicing of certain forces."
Putin said Russia also has such critical newspapers and sometimes he has to read them because his press secretary brings him "all sorts of filth."