Russian President Vladimir Putin held his annual televised question and answer session on Thursday – but was vague when discussing his own political plans.
He failed to confirm that he will run for a fourth term, as expected, next year.
And when asked who his successor might be, Putin said: “I am still working.”
“I want to say that the voter, the Russian people should decide this.”
Putin, 64, avoided mentioning opposition leader Alexei Navalny by name.
But he made clear he did not approve of Monday’s anti-Kremlin protest, broken up by baton-wielding riot police.
Accusing opposition activists of exploiting problems, he said: “One must not exploit, but offer solutions. Those who propose solutions deserve full attention and have a right to dialogue…and we will do that.”
In a sign that an election is near, Putin focussed mostly on domestic issues and pledged to eradicate spiralling poverty and ensure people were properly housed and paid.
Unlike previous years, some awkward questions surfaced, albeit briefly. “Perhaps you’re tired and you should quit?” read one, which flashed up behind Putin on a screen.
Turning the tables on Washington, Putin claimed the US has meddled in Russian politics.
And he joked that if former FBI director James Comey suffers persecution for falling out with President Donald Trump, Moscow will grant him asylum.
In passing, Putin offered James Comey asylum in Russia https://t.co/fPo3k4GQnd— The New York Times (@nytimes) 15 juin 2017
Putin said it was “strange” that, while still FBI director, Comey had passed the contents of a conversation he had with Trump to the media via a friend.
“What is the difference then between the FBI director and Mr. Snowden?” Putin said, referring to former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who was granted asylum in Russia in 2013 after leaking classified information about US spy operations.
“In this case, he (Comey) is not the head of a special service but a human rights activist who defends a certain position,” Putin said.
“By the way, if he is subject to any sort of persecution in connection with this, we will be ready to give him political asylum in Russia. And he should know about this.”
But Putin also struck a more conciliatory tone.
“We have worked with the US on solutions for the Iranian nuclear problem and found them,” Putin said.
“There are positive examples of cooperation…. So we can find an agreement, we can work together. Of course, we can.”
The two countries can notably work together to solve the crisis in Syria, Putin said.
Last month the United States and Russia were said to have increased communication to avoid warplane accidents in the skies over the war-torn country as ISIL militants lose territory and the fight against the jihadists intensifies.