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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Frank Talks on Democracy at Lunch

ST. PETERSBURG -- President Vladimir Putin has told his fellow Group of Eight leaders he will not change the Constitution to stay for a third term in office, G8 officials said Monday.

A G8 diplomat said Putin gave the assurance over a dinner Sunday when the Kremlin leader himself initiated a "frank but friendly" discussion about democracy in Russia, an area where some Western governments say he has been back-tracking.

"He clearly said, 'I'm not going to change the Constitution. I want Russia to be a constitutional state,'" the diplomat said.

G8 leaders have shied away from challenging Putin publicly about his democratic credentials.

But the diplomat said it was extensively aired at the dinner, with Putin addressing concerns about state control of the media and a new law that tightens state control over funding funding for charities and pressure groups.

Putin said Russia was a special case because it was a country in transition and should not replicate other countries' systems, the diplomat said. He said some of the other leaders challenged this.

Officials said German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair weighed in to the debate.

"There was a wide-ranging discussion on democracy. The prime minister made a full contribution," a British official said.

Russia's Constitution limits presidents to two consecutive terms. Putin has previously ruled out running again, but his commitment on Sunday carried extra weight because it was made in front of his peers.

Merkel pushed for Russia to have a strong, independent judiciary, the diplomat said, while U.S. President George W. Bush urged Putin to repeat explanations to the group that had been made to him in private talks.

Chirac emphasized the complexity of running a country in transition and the difficulty of governing a large country, the diplomat said.