Is Russia’s defence chief emerging as Putin’s possible successor?

Even though Vladimir Putin was first elected Russia’s president in 2000, he is currently serving his “zero” term – according to the law that “nullified” his three previous presidencies and the current one.

The legislation, which lets him run for two six-year terms in 2024 and 2030, was symbolically sponsored by lawmaker Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to fly to space in 1963.

“Simple folks simply asked me” to submit the bill, she said, and the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament dominated by Putin loyalists, adopted it in March 2020.

“’We don’t accept’ must be our only words about the nullification,” opposition leader and anti-corruption crusader Alexey Navalny warned Russians.

Several months later, he barely survived a nerve agent poisoning that he claimed was orchestrated by Putin, and was sentenced to two and a half years in jail this February.

Putin is still pondering the idea of a “first” – or technically fifth – term.

“I have not yet decided whether I would run in 2024,” he said in December 2020.

From the dawn of his presidency, he projected the image of a teetotal, outdoorsy athlete who dabbles in judo, swims – sometimes with dolphins – and rides horses, occasionally and famously without his shirt on.

But on October 7, he is turning 69 – and many wonder who will succeed him, and when.

Pro-Kremlin observers refuse to even name his potential successors from among the current cabinet members.

“Of course, I write about them in classified documents, and many do, but to publicly name them is to pay them lip service,” said analyst Alexey Mukhin, who heads the Center of Political Information, a think-tank in Moscow.

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