President Vladimir Putin said Monday that he will not seek a third term in 2008, but vowed not to allow "destabilization" in Russia following the vote, leaving the door open for drastic action in the event of a crisis.
In an interview with Dutch media on the eve of a visit to the Netherlands, Putin reiterated that he opposes changing Russia's constitution to prolong his time in power - a possibility that has been widely discussed because his popularity and control over parliament.
But Putin said that the 2008 presidential election will be a "serious, difficult test for Russia" and stressed that full power and responsibility for the fate of the country will remain in his hands until the new president is sworn in.
Putin did not elaborate, but the statement raised the possibility that Putin could take unpredictable measures in the name of stability in the event of unrest or a political crisis in the weeks between the election and the new president's inauguration.
He suggested such actions probably would not be necessary, saying that he believes "the political forces in Russia are mature enough to understand their responsibility to the people," and said the election would be a fair one.