MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- The upper house of Russia's parliament Monday approved an extension of the presidential term from four years to six, a move many Russia-watchers believe is designed to bring former President Vladimir Putin back to the nation's top office.
Some experts believe prime minister Vladimir Putin remains Russia's real leader.
Putin stepped down as president in May after two terms and is now prime minister.
His hand-picked successor, Dmitri Medvedev, proposed in November that the head of state's term be lengthened, starting with the next president.
Putin earlier this month shrugged off the suggestion that Medvedev would step down to make way for Putin's return when the law passes.
"The next election is in 2012," he said December 4, according to the Interfax news agency. But his comments came after a three-hour televised question-and-answer session with the Russian public which reinforced some experts' view that Putin remained the country's real leader.
Putin has done call-in programs each year since 2001, but this year was the first one he did as prime minister, rather than president. Putin remaining in the chair this year, rather than yielding it to Medvedev, shows he still runs Russia, analyst Yevgeny Volk said.
In fact, the three-hour nationwide broadcast may have marked the beginning of his campaign to be re-elected president, said Volk, the director of the Moscow office of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative U.S.-based think tank.
The constitutional amendments extending the presidential term passed the upper house of Russia's parliament with the support of all of the country's 83 regions, the chamber said in a statement reported by RIA-Novosti.
The amendments would also increase the length of lawmakers' terms from four years to five. They now go to the president for his signature.