By Bridget Kendall
Diplomatic correspondent, BBC News
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he expects to remain an influential figure in Russian politics after he steps down next March.
Mr Putin said he would remain in Russia after March 2008
Speaking to Western journalists and academics, he did not rule out standing for president again in 2012 or 2016.
He also suggested the race to succeed him was wide open, with at least six credible candidates including Russia's new PM, Viktor Zubkov.
Mr Putin described the little-known Mr Zubkov as a "real professional".
Mr Zubkov was picked from obscurity to run the Russian government just this week.
Speaking at his holiday home on the Black Sea in southern Russia, Mr Putin lavished generous praise on his new prime minister.
Until he was elevated to run the Russian government on Wednesday Viktor Zubkov was a little-known bureaucrat who had made his career in the tax police.
But Mr Putin described him as a brilliant and pragmatic administrator whom he had known well since the early 1990s, when they both worked for the mayor of St Petersburg.
Mr Putin also gave a heavy hint that Mr Zubkov might emerge as a candidate to succeed him as president, though perhaps not the only one.
The field, said Mr Putin, was wide open, with as many as five credible candidates already. Mr Putin will step down in March at the end of his second and final term as president.
But there was a strong hint that he would like to carry on being a force in Russian politics, and that he could still potentially be a power behind the throne.
Mr Putin said he had not decided what to do next and was considering several options.
He insisted he did not want to weaken the position of his successor.
And he would be the first to argue that Russia needs a strong leader.
But he said his main concern was to make sure that Russia remained stable and did not veer off course.
He pointedly did not rule out standing again for president in 2012 or 2016, and described himself as a factor that the next Russian president would have to take into account.
He and the next president, Mr Putin said, would need to work out a way to co-exist.