Vladimir Putin is preparing to stand down as Russian president and hand over power to a trusted successor, a leaked letter from a friend has claimed.
He is ready to anoint speaker of the Russian parliament Vyacheslav Volodin as his chosen successor as president, it is suggested, but there are fears the text could be a dirty trick involving warring rivals close to the powerful leader.
Putin was evidently caught by surprise when confronted with the claim at a public Kremlin session.
He paused before giving an answer that neither confirmed nor denied whether he will fight next year’s presidential election.
Most pundits predict the strongman to seek another six years in the Kremlin, and few doubt he would win by a landslide, but he has not so far announced he will stand again.
Volodin – a devout loyalist with a high public profile who served previously as his deputy chief of staff – has not yet commented on the swirling rumours, but in December publicly urged Putin to stand for another term.
The letter alleging Volodin ‘would soon be president’ was supposedly penned by another Putin political friend Frants Klintsevich, a senior senator, who is close to both men.
Klintsevich later claimed the letter was a ‘fake’, and he is known to be embroiled in an ugly dispute the man who evidently shocked Putin by reading it out, Andrey Chepurnoy, leader of a group of Afghan War veterans.