Russian President Vladimir Putin may seek a fourth presidential term

Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses experts and journalists during the final plenary meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club in the Novgorod Region, on the banks of Lake Valdai, on Sept. 19, 2013.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday he may run for a fourth term when his current six-year mandate expires in 2018.

In response to a question about whether he would seek a new term as president, Putin said: “I do not rule it out.”

Putin served two consecutive four-year terms as president between 2000 and 2008, when he became prime minister and Dmitry Medvedev took over the top job.

Medvedev extended the presidential term to six years and then swapped jobs with his predecessor in 2012.

If Putin were re-elected president for a fourth term, he would be the longest-serving leader of Russia since Josef Stalin, the Associated Press noted. 

Such a decision would likely be met by strong resistance from opposition groups and critics who have accused Putin of undermining democracy, suppressing freedom of speech and failing to deal with corruption. 

Putin was speaking at an annual meeting with Western officials and intellectuals in Valdai, Russia, where he also said he would not exclude the possibility of pardoning around two dozen people on trial for their alleged roles in a mass protest last year.

They face hefty prison sentences for charges such as inciting mass riots after a protest in central Moscow last May turned violent.

This year's Valdai conference was also noted for including several opposition activists, providing them with opportunities to ask Putin questions directly.