President Vladimir V. Putin, who is barred from seeking another term, suggested Monday that he might become prime minister next year, seeming to confirm what many analysts had assumed: that he plans to hold on to the power he has accrued over eight years.
Mr. Putin, who spoke at the congress of the United Russia party, the country's dominant political force, said he would lead that party's candidate list in the December parliamentary elections.
The announcement was at once consistent and surprising. The president, who is popular among Russia's citizens and has a centralized lock on his government, has often said he intended to remain involved in politics beyond his second term. He has even said that he may seek re-election after another president holds the office, as the Russian Constitution allows him to do.
But he had not previously suggested a new political office for himself immediately after the presidential election next March, as he did when he said he could become Russia's next prime minister.
"Heading the government is quite a realistic proposal," he said, before adding a qualifier he often uses when publicly discussing his plans for 2008. "But it is too early to think about that."
In Mr. Putin's years in the Kremlin, Russia's economy and international influence have expanded, and many Russians have seen their living conditions improve.
Mr. Putin's speech here elevated the Kremlin's stagecraft to new levels. United Russia's party congress led the national news broadcasts, which featured scenes of Mr. Putin sitting on an elevated viewing stand above each speaker as a crowd looked up toward him adoringly.
One speaker, a weaver from the Ivanovo oblast, or district, pleaded with party officials to find a way to keep Mr. Putin in office for a third term. "I see so many big bosses and just smart people at this congress," said the weaver, Yelena Lapshina. "I appeal to all of you — let's think of something together so that Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin will remain the president of Russia after 2008 as well."
The use of a weaver from Ivanovo borrowed directly from Soviet iconography and the pantheon of state-endorsed heroes of the proletariat. Mr. Putin's managers quickly topped even that clear symbol, as an athlete in a wheelchair rolled onto the stage and praised the president.
"Vladimir Vladimirovich, you are lucky," said the athlete, Mikhail B. Terentyev, a ski champion from the Paralympic games. The crowd broke out in applause.
Mr. Terentyev continued: "And while you are the president, the luck accompanies Russia. You have become a talisman for tens of millions of people, a symbol of the successful development of the country. Of course it is up to you to decide which place in the country's political life you will occupy, but no matter what decision you make, I want you to stay with us, with Russia."
Mr. Putin looked down from his seat, head tilted, eyebrows raised, emanating calm and power.
The day's events ignited a new round of speculation about Mr. Putin's path through the elections ahead.
The prime minister's position in Russia is often viewed as a step toward the presidency; Mr. Putin briefly held the job under President Boris N. Yeltsin before swiftly rising to the seat of power.
Last month Mr. Putin abruptly appointed Viktor A. Zubkov, a confidant of little prior prominence, to the prime minister's post. He then hinted that Mr. Zubkov could succeed him as the president. The president's remarks, taken together, suggested that when his term expires he might step one rung down the government's ladder — and then step back up.
But Mr. Putin's latest speech also accompanied his acceptance of a new type of prominence: as the symbolic head of Russia's dominant political party, United Russia. The party unfailingly supports the Kremlin and Mr. Putin, although the president has never joined it and did not join it on Monday.
By accepting the position at the head of the party's candidate list, Mr. Putin instantaneously lent the party his vast domestic political stature — and, in all likelihood, the resources of the Russian government — to its efforts to extend its dominance in Russia's 450-seat Duma, the lower house of Parliament.
The party had appeared already to bank on its close relationship with Mr. Putin. Its slogan for the parliamentary campaign, even before Mr. Putin agreed to be on the party list, was "Putin's Plan: Russia's Victory."
The party holds a strong majority of the Duma's seats. Its leadership said Monday that Mr. Putin's new public support guaranteed it an unconditional victory in the next round of elections, scheduled for Dec. 2.
The small remaining opposition conceded as much soon after the president's remarks were broadcast on national television. Grigory A. Yavlinsky, the leader of the opposition Yabloko party, said on the Ekho Moskvy radio station that the day's events were further proof of a "one-party system in Russia."
Whether Mr. Putin could serve in Parliament and as president simultaneously is an open question. Russia's Constitution and electoral law allow parties to nominate candidates for the legislature who are not party members, but the Constitution also requires a separation of powers as one of its fundamental principles.
However, Maya Grishina, a member of the federal Central Election Commission, told the official RIA Novosti news agency that "the head of the state is not banned to nominate his candidacy at any election, including the parliamentary election."
"Along with this he can still carry out his duties," she said. "The law doesn't contain any restrictions on this."
Gleb O. Pavlovsky, a political scientist who leads a research institute closely connected with the Kremlin, said that Mr. Putin would give his name to the party as an electoral locomotive, but would not actually seek a seat in the Parliament after the results were tallied in December.
Instead, Mr. Pavlovsky said, Mr. Putin had identified the party and the parliamentary campaign as another possible base of power after he leaves office. "The party may become his main tool after the end of his presidency," he said by telephone. "The new president won't be able to appoint a prime minister without the support of the party leader."