The influential speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament has suggested opposition politician Aleksei Navalny is not eligible to run for president in 2018.
State Duma chairman Vyacheslav Volodin spoke to journalists on December 21, eight days after anticorruption crusader Navalny announced his intention to run.
He said Navalny's presidential bid was "a topic that doesn't exist" and that Navalny should "read the law" before making such announcements.
"When the law does not allow it, why mislead people?" said Volodin, who was formerly President Vladimir Putin's top strategist on domestic politics.
Navalny has been convicted of financial crimes twice in trials he says were Kremlin-dictated revenge for his opposition activities.
Last month, the Supreme Court threw out the verdict in one of the cases and sent it back for a new trial -- a step Navalny and his lawyers said removed a legal restraint that had barred him from running for office.
If he is convicted in the retrial now under way, he would likely be prohibited from running in 2018, and some political analysts expect the Kremlin will make that happen by influencing the courts.
Others say Putin, who is widely expected to run for a new six-year term in the election but has not declared his candidacy, may want to let Navalny run to put a veneer of democracy on the election.
But Volodin's remarks indicate that he believes Navalny is already ineligible.
Volodin's position does not give him the formal authority to interpret Russian law, and Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not give a definitive answer when asked about Navalny's status by journalists on December 22.
With reporting by Vedomosti, TASS, and RFE/RL's Russian Service