Russian President Vladimir Putin hinted this week that he won't run for a fourth term in 2018, but it's unclear if he would actually give up control to a new leader or continue to rule Russia from another role as he has done in the past. Putin's remarks Tuesday came during a trade meeting involving the possible Kazan World Championship, an aquatic sports event, according to Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

"The event we are talking about should take place in 2019. The presidential elections in Russia will be held in 2018. But I'm sure whoever is the head of the Russian state will be happy to take part in these events," Putin said.

It's not the first time Putin has indicated that he might be willing to retire from political life. Putin said in November that he wouldn't remain Russia's president forever. Staying in office would be "detrimental for the country, and I don't need this," he said at the time. 

Putin has been Russia's leader since he was first elected in 2000. He served two four-year terms, then retained power as prime minister before he was elected as president in 2012 to a six-year term.

Putin would easily win a fourth term because of his high popularity among Russians and his fierce competitive streak, according to the Moscow Times. If he did choose to step aside, it's unclear if a serious race would take shape given that Putin is expected to anoint a successor, such as Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who would continue to protect his interests. Shoigu is also popular among Russian voters. 

Roughly 60 percent of Russians do not want Putin to run in the 2018 election, while 45 percent would prefer a new president without ties to the current government, according to the Moscow Times.