Vladimir Putin was expected by many to remain as Russia’s leader for the remainder of his life.
But now Kremlin-watchers say the 68-year-old former KGB colonel has started planning for a semi-retirement as a state senator.
A new law being unexpectedly rushed through the Russian parliament would make Putin a senator for life when … or if… he leaves the country’s highest office.
The new draft legislation was introduced by Putin himself, and would guarantee him a number of official perks including lifelong legal immunity.
State-run RT media forecast the move will be seen “as a sign that the groundwork is being laid for an eventual transition of power in Russia”.
Putin – and any subsequent ex-president will be permitted within three months of leaving the presidency to become a member of the Federation Council, the country’s upper house or senate, for life.
“This is Russia copying the outdated British system of life peers in the House of Lords,” said one Moscow source.
The law comes just four months after Putin changed the constitution to permit him a tsar-like hold on power by seeking a new six year term in 2024, and again in 2030.
This change, following a nationwide vote seen in the West as rigged, was widely interpreted as Putin actively seeking to remain in power until he is aged 83.
This triggered memes showing how the famously macho leader might look if he remains at the Kremlin helm for so long.
Yet most Russian officials are forced to quit by the age of 70, and the surprise move perhaps indicates he intends to nominate a chosen successor sooner rather than later.
Or the new job could be an insurance policy in case he is forced out by ill health.
Putin would still be a decade younger than a newly inaugurated 78-year-old Joe Biden if the Democrat wins the White House in tomorrow’s US election.
Under the new rules, Putin - seen by critics as the richest man in the world, a claim denied by the Kremlin - would be able to become a senator for life within three months of leaving the presidency either early or at the end of his term.
The scheme will also permit seven other senators for life, people who have given “outstanding service to the country”, a move perhaps enabling rewards to his closest cronies.
Putin is already the longest-serving Kremlin leader since Stalin.
He took over the Russian presidency from Boris Yeltsin on the last day of 1999 - and has been head of state ever since apart from four years as prime minister between 2008-12 when his close ally Dmitry Medvedev occupied the top office.