In an annual televised question and answer session lasting a record four hours today, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin gave some of the strongest hints yet that he is mulling a return to Russia's presidency.
"I will think about it, there is still enough time," he replied when pressed about his political future.
Asked whether he wouldn't rather spend time with his family after dealing with all the problems of politics, Putin replied, "Don't hold your breath."
Shortly after the marathon broadcast finished, President Dmitry Medvedev was asked about his plans for 2012.
"Prime Minister Putin said he doesn't rule out the possibility and I also say I don't rule it out," Medvedev told reporters at a press conference in Rome.
The pair has said in the past they will not run against each other, but rather sit down and decide who the candidate will be. A constitutional amendment proposed by Medvedev when he took office in 2008 allows Putin to seek two more terms. There has been little mention of the role of Russia's electorate since victory is all but assured for whomever they choose to run.
"Prime Minister Putin said he doesn't rule out the possibility and I also say I don't rule it out," Medvedev responded to reporters at a press conference in Rome.
The pair has said in the past they will not run against each other, but would sit down and decide who the candidate will be. A constitutional amendment proposed by Medvedev when he took office in 2008 allows Putin to seek two more terms.
"[Putin's] answer about the possibility of running in 2012 was a little different than in the past," says Nikolai Petrov, a political analyst at Moscow's Carnegie Center, noting that Putin didn't name Medvedev in his answer.
"This time he wasn't trying to say "[I] should decide this with president Medvedev. He avoided a direct answer but sent a clear signal that it not only can't be excluded, but it's very probable."
Lest anyone interpret Putin's comments as a fracture in the "tandem," Putin emphasized that their similar backgrounds and principles allow them to work together "efficiently."
"It's the only thing they can say," says Fyodor Lukianov, an analyst with the Russia In Global Affairs journal. "I think this time [Putin] indicated that the possibility is a little more likely more than before."
More than two million questions were submitted for Putin's eighth and longest-ever question-and-answer session, an annual tradition he started as president.
"He's a sportsman, each time he tries to answer more questions than last time, to have a record," says Petrov. "It's his aim to spend more time and to answer more questions."
Questions came by phone, text message, from the studio audience and factory workers around Russia beamed in by satellite. Hosted by state-run TV, Putin faced a friendly audience armed with carefully selected questions.
Medvedev, in contrast, has never submitted himself to the same treatment.
Today's Q&A was more upbeat than one last December, in part because the economic crisis was front and center in 2009. "The peak of the crisis has been overcome," Putin declared early in today's session.
"Exit from the crisis requires time, strength and considerable funds," he said, pointing to positive trends and taking credit for preventing the worst.