Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin says it's still too early to say whether he will return to the presidency next year, or whether President Dmitry Medvedev will seek a second term.
If the decision were already known, Putin said Wednesday, "then half of the presidential administration and more than half of the government would stop working in expectation of some kind of change."
Putin said in televised remarks that instead of worrying about how power will be configured after the March 2012 election, everyone should do their work every day and "hoe their garden like St. Francis," a Catholic saint known for his love of animals and nature.
With the election now less than a year away, speculation is growing over which of Russia's leaders will run. Their statements are sifted through daily for any indication of their intentions, and any disagreement leads to discussions of whether Medvedev is trying to break free from Putin, the man who groomed him for the presidency and still wields more power.
Both men deny any rift.
"We have friendly, very warm, comradely relations, which were formed over the last 20 years," Medvedev, 45, said Tuesday in an interview with Chinese television, which was posted on the Kremlin website. "I have know Putin practically half of my life."
Medvedev said they have different opinions and different roles as president and prime minister, which he said cannot help but be reflected in their work.
He and Putin also have different missions. Medvedev's has been to bring on board the business community and the educated urban elite _ the people who had become discontent during Putin's eight-year presidency. He also has been tasked with improving relations with the West with the aim of attracting badly needed investment.
Putin, 58, holds stronger appeal with average Russians who like his tough rhetoric and willingness to stand up to the West.
Medvedev said in the interview that no one knows what the future will bring. "But I can tell you that I, as the head of state, as the president, think about it of course, I'm simply obliged to do so."
He added that he has not excluded running for a new term.
Most politics watchers expect Putin to reclaim the presidency next year, but he seems to want to keep people guessing and maintain his options for as long as possible.
He said Wednesday that he and Medvedev are asked which one of them will run so often that they have learned to say the same thing.
Their standard answer, repeated by both men this week with only a slight difference in wording, is that they will decide together based on the political, economic and social condition in the country ahead of the election.