As he sails to re-election, Putin has a succession problem

As he sails to re-election, Putin has a succession problem - Politics - News

Preparing for an Uncertain Future: Russia’s Lack of Succession Planning Amid Putin’s Re-Election

Russian President Vladimir Putin is anticipated to secure his fifth term in office beginning March 15, 2023. With the passing of opposition leader Alexey Navalny and Putin’s constitutional amendments allowing him to remain in power until 2036, his political career has entered the president-for-life stage. However, this re-election highlights an uncomfortable reality: Putin and his inner circle have not made significant preparations for a post-Putin era.

The absence of succession planning may not appear pressing to Putin, who has been in power since 1999 and is Russia’s longest-serving leader since Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Yet, analysts argue that the system built under Putin’s rule is brittle and vulnerable to external shocks.

Andreas Umland, an analyst at the Stockholm Centre for Eastern contact Studies, emphasizes that potential challenges might emerge sooner than expected: “Putin could theoretically rule for another 12 years. However, I don’t think that will happen, especially if Ukraine achieves new victories that will have repercussions in Moscow.”

Rumors regarding Putin’s health and unfounded speculations spread through social media and anonymous Telegram channels suggest that succession concerns might lurk beneath the Kremlin’s opaque facade. While the Russian Federation has a constitutional system for orderly succession, Putin presides over a court-like system where he acts as the ultimate arbiter of disputes between competing elite factions.

Comparatively, the Soviet Union had a consensus-driven Politburo that provided a relatively stable mechanism for power transfer. Putin’s inner circle, comprising wealthy cronies, state security apparatus representatives, and loyal technocrats, is often likened to a Politburo 2.0 capable of managing a potential succession.

One precedent for power handover in Putin’s Russia involves Dmitry Medvedev, who served as a placeholder during Putin’s second term but remained a puppet leader while Putin maintained control from behind the scenes. However, Medvedev might still harbor ambitions to reclaim the top job, as evident in his recent anti-Western rhetoric regarding Ukraine being “definitely Russia.”

Succession competition may not be imminent, with some observers predicting that real contention will occur in the 2030s when Putin reaches his sixth term. Andrey Pertsev, a Russian political observer, describes potential successors as “princes” who are quietly building their bases of support in anticipation of Putin’s departure.

Autocrats like Alexander Lukashenko, Xi Jinping, and Nazarbayev have shown various methods of maintaining power. However, Putin’s intentions to stay in power have been met with ridicule by Russia’s opposition. While the Kremlin closely watches neighboring autocrats, recent events suggest that trusted successors can only be relied upon for so long.