President Vladimir Putin told Russians on Wednesday that the time would come when he would name his possible successor in the Kremlin, but said the choice would ultimately lie with voters.
Putin, 68, has been in power as president or prime minister since the turn of the century. His current six-year term in the Kremlin is due to end in 2024 andhis remarks are being closely parsed for clues as to whether he plans to extend his rule.
Russia changed its constitution last year at Putin's behest allowing him to run for two more six-year terms in the Kremlin, and potentially remain president until 2036.
The Kremlin is at a delicate political juncture with its relations with the West badly strained and its oil-dependent economy emerging from the pandemic with high inflation and a weak rouble, sensitive issues for voters.
Russia holds parliamentary elections in September that are seen as a dry-run for the 2024 presidential election. In the run-up, authorites have cracked down hard on the opposition and outlawed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny's network as "extremist".
"A time will come when, I hope, I can say that such and such a person is worthy in my opinion of leading such a wonderful country like Russia, our homeland," Putin said.
The Russian leader was speaking during his annual question and answers session on state TV that the Kremlin uses for political messaging and to show he is in touch with regular Russians' day-to-day concerns.
"A signal. There will be a successor," Alexei Chesnakov, a political analyst who used to work in the presidential administration, wrote on Telegram messenger.
Putin, a KGB officer in the Cold War, came to power after being named acting president in December 1999 by his ailing predecesor Boris Yeltsin, Russia's first post-Soviet president.