The Russian parliament yesterday moved closer to making Vladimir Putin president for life after a bombshell statement, meaning he could potentially stay in power until the age of 84.
Speculation has been rife about what the Russian leader of 20 years will do when his fourth and final term in office expires in 2024.
Mr Putin in January launched a discussion of constitutional amendments that would overhaul Russia's system of power, potentially giving him options for staying in charge in another role.
But yesterday, Valentina Tereshkova - the first woman in space - took the floor at the State Duma (parliament) to suggest Mr Putin should stay in place as president.
The 83-year-old cosmonaut said her voters were "anxious and worried" and wanted Mr Putin to stay in power or at least "be around in case something goes wrong".
Less than two hours later, Mr Putin made a surprise appearance.
He told parliamentarians it made no sense to change the wording in the constitution that bars anyone from seeking more than two consecutive terms in office. But he said he supported the idea of resetting the count of his own presidential terms as long as the constitutional court approved.
The announcement appeared to be part of Mr Putin's plan to stay in power.
"I've always found it hard to see him go away as long as he's physically fit," said Alexei Venediktov, editor-in-chief at Ekho Moskvy radio. "Everyone was expecting a fifth (presidential) term, a legal way for Putin to carry on."
The amendments Mr Putin floated in January were aimed at expanding the powers of parliament, a new State Council body and that of the president.
Yesterday's announcement showed he "was playing his own game and kept his plans close to his chest away from his administration", according to Tatyana Stanovaya, a non-resident scholar at Moscow's Carnegie Centre and head of the R Politik political analyst firm.
The amendment, which received preliminary approval by 380 votes to 43, at the very least gives Mr Putin an option of running again but it remains to be seen how he is going to use it in 2024, Ms Stanovaya said.
The amendment is likely to breeze through all the stages of the approval process including a vote at the upper chamber and Constitutional Court.
If it passes, it creates the possibility that Mr Putin could outstrip Joseph Stalin's 29-year leadership.
The surprise proposal, however, shocked many in Russia's opposition.
"What is happening today is technically a coup d'état," Leonid Volkov, one of the closest allies of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, tweeted.
Mr Navalny, who was barred from running for president in 2018 due to a conviction the European Court of Human Rights ruled unlawful, wrote: "The current constitution guarantees my right to run for president and absolutely bars Putin from doing so.
"In reality, I still can't run while Putin who has been in power for 20 years will run for his fifth term no matter what."