( Reuters ) - Russian President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party will name its candidate for next year's presidential vote on December 17 when it could become clearer who Putin wants to be his successor.
The announcement will be made at the party's congress but it is not certain the United Russia nominee will be Putin's final choice. Analysts expect the Russian leader to keep his options open for as long as possible.
"One of the first questions at the congress will be about the candidate in the presidential election and it will be considered on December 17," United Russia leader Boris Gryzlov told a news conference on Friday.
United Russia achieved a landslide victory in last weekend's parliamentary election.
Russia's constitution bars Putin from running for a third consecutive term and he has said he will step down after his replacement is elected. The 55-year-old has also said he is likely to endorse one of his team to replace him.
Putin's close aides, first deputy prime ministers Sergei Ivanov and Dmitry Medvedev, are regarded as the most obvious candidates as his preferred successor. Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov is also considered a possibility by analysts.
Support from Putin, Russia's most popular politician, is the key to victory for any candidate in the presidential election on March 2 when the weak and fractured opposition is unlikely to be a strong player.
Underlining the uncertainty about how and when Putin will put forward his chosen successor, Gryzlov said United Russia was ready to back any scheme proposed by the Russian leader.
Several political forces, including a new movement called "For Putin!," have been vying for the right to nominate the main Kremlin-endorsed candidate.
Asked whether United Russia could back a candidate proposed by the "For Putin!" movement, Gryzlov said: "I said the party congress will consider a candidate. This suggests any option and we will specify our position closer to the congress."