Vladimir Putin is considering quitting as Russian President, a Kremlin expert has claimed.
The 64-year-old may stand down due to ‘certain circumstances’ that mean he will need to be out of the spotlight next year, it is suggested.
Russian political analyst Valery Solovey hinted that Putin, who welcomed the election of Donald Trump as US President, may be forced to step aside due to illness.
Mr Solovey, professor at Moscow State Institute of Foreign Affairs, said the president might need to ‘avoid publicity in 2017 for several months or will appear very rarely’.
He stated: ‘As you see, this hypothetical situation is very nervy from the point of view of Russian policy.’
He was asked if Putin had ‘health problems’ he answered cryptically: ‘Let me not say more, I have said enough.
‘And let me stress once again: this information is not absolutely reliable. Still, it should be considered.’
The explosive story appeared on major Kremlin-friendly news website Moskovsky Komsomolets (MK) and was then deleted within hours.
However, Mr Solovey insisted on social media that all he had said was true.
‘Before the end of the year, the respected audience will get confirmation of everything mentioned in the much talked-about interview.’
The report hinted at health problems but also said that the strongman could stand aside to allow a successor to take charge who had better relations with the West.
The story appeared under the headline: ‘Thunderstorm 2017: maybe Putin will be replaced by a successor in several months’.
Two names were mentioned as potential replacements in the ‘censored’ article: current premier Dmitry Medvedev, who has already served a four year term as president ending in 2012; and Alexei Dyumin, 44, ex-Putin bodyguard and former deputy defence minister, who is seen as being groomed for a top role.
It hinted at a bitter power struggle involving Putin’s influential security apparatchiks who oppose Medvedev.
Mr Solovey, who is seen as having an inside track at the Kremlin, said early presidential elections are being considered for 2017, up to a year ahead of the end of Putin’s current six year term.
The deletion of the article by MK was reported in Russia today by Gazprom-owned but editorially independent Ekho Moscow radio what said: ‘There will be clarity in December – MK deleted political analyst’s interview about Putin’s successor.’
One comment asked: ‘Why did the editor freak out? What was so special in what this guy said? Or we can’t speak about anything at all now?’
The interview was read by more than 50,000 users before it was deleted, according to MedeaLeaks.ru.
Mr Solovey, 56, graduated from Moscow State Lomonosov Institute, and worked for the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Mikhail Gorbachev Foundation, as well as spending a year at the London School of Economics.
He has been a member of the expert council of respected Geopolitics magazine since 2009.
He said it was ‘logical’ to hold early elections but the ‘most incredible idea was being discussed’, namely that Putin would not be a candidate.
Asked why, he said: ‘Party because of these circumstances, partly because of geo-strategic considerations.
‘Putin is convinced that as long as he is the president, it would not be possible to improve relations with the West.
‘So in order to change this situation it is necessary that Russia is represented at the negotiations by a different person.