Author: Ola Cichowlas, Mikhail Fishman

(By Ola Cichowlas and Mikhail Fishman. The Moscow Times, Dec. 8, 2016, p. 2. Complete text:) Every time President Vladimir Putin hints about leaving, the world listens. Rumors have long been circulating around Moscow that Russia’s great leader may, in fact, be considering leaving office. Russia’s 2018 presidential election, Putin’s fourth in the last 17 years, is just 15 months away.

So when Putin unexpectedly told gathered workers at the [Eterno] plant in the Urals city of Chelyabinsk that he hoped to "successfully wind up his career," local political gossip went into overdrive.

And Putin did not stop at that. Addressing the Soviet-style staged meeting, the president revealed that he "dreams of traveling***of looking at nature and historical sites."

This would be an altogether different way of seeing the world, he suggested.

"Now, all my traveling is reduced to arriving at an airport, getting transported from there to some building, then back to the airport," he said. "I was in Peru recently. So, what did I see? An airport, another building, and then back to Moscow. And there are things to see in Peru."

While it is wise not to read too much into Putin’s responses, analysts say they offer some glimpses into his state of mind.

"Of course, he should be thinking about his retirement," says Russian political historian Valery Solovei. "His dream of freedom to travel suggests two things: He wants to be in good shape when he retires, and he wants Russia to be on good terms with the rest of the world."

Russia’s establishment has given few clues about any impending switch, and indeed seems to be gearing up for Putin’s reelection in March 2018. "Everything is going according to plan," confirms elections guru Yevgeny Minchenko.

A number of changes have been made inside the highest echelons of the ...

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