Russian President Vladimir Putin told an annual end-of-year press conference on Thursday that he will run for president in early 2018 as an independent candidate.
At the question and answer session with Russian and foreign media in Moscow, the president was asked by a journalist from the Kommersant newspaper whom he was running with for president in March 2018.
"I will run on my own behalf," Putin said. "Definitely, I hope that I will be supported by some popular movements, parties or any other groups that share my views and that endorse my views so I really rely on broad support from our people."
Putin's comments signaled a break with the United Russia party, which has been associated with him since its formation in 2001.
Although Putin has always run as a candidate for the ruling United Russia in previous elections, he did not expand on the reasons for running as an independent.
A possible explanation could be that United Russia's popularity ratings lag those of Putin and that the president wants to distance himself from an unpopular ruling party.
Data from the independent Russian polling center Levada showed that Putin's approval rating in November stood at 81 percent — by contrast, the approval rating of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was just 44 percent — and approval of the Russian government, dominated by United Russia, was only 42 percent.
During the press conference, a reporter from Russia's Life news agency asked the president why, over the 20 or so years of Putin being in power, there had not been an influential political opposition in Russia.
"Should I train contenders for myself?" Putin replied, adding that he wanted to see a more competitive political environment in Russia nonetheless.
"Our political system, just like our economic system, should be a competitive one, and that is my goal. I'd like to have a balanced political system, and competition is vital. We don't have high-profile opposition figures, and they can't compete with those in power," he said.
Kicking off the press conference, a journalist from radio station Govorit Moskva (Moscow is Speaking) asked Putin what his priorities were for Russia if he were re-elected as president. Putin was first elected president in 2000, and has been the dominant figure in Russia since then, including when he was prime minister.
Putin responded that he would focus on developing the country's infrastructure, health care, education and economy.
"Our ultimate goal should be to increase the income of our people," he said.