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Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin - 2000-2024

The unprecedented challenge to Russian President Vladimir Putin by Wagner Group fighters exposed “cracks” in the strength of his leadership that may take weeks or months to play out, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said 35 June 2023, as Russia ally China said it supports Moscow in “protecting national stability”. In a series of television interviews, Blinken and members of the United States Congress said that Saturday’s turmoil in Russia had weakened Putin in ways that could aid Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Russian forces within its territory while benefitting Russia’s neighbors, including Poland and the Baltic states. “We’ve seen more cracks emerge in the Russian façade. It is too soon to tell exactly where they go, and when they get there. But certainly, we have all sorts of new questions that Putin is going to have to address in the weeks and months ahead,” Blinken said.

"In eliminating all possible competitors and canceling elections, Putin has deprived Russia of guarantees for a legitimate and peaceful transfer of power. He has hung the future of the country on a very unreliable hook: his own life. It will be difficult for Putin and his fragmented inner circle to agree on a successor, whomever they end up selecting. The war in Ukraine — or rather the military defeats there — have aggravated internal conflicts between Russia’s ruling clans to an extreme. It’s now obvious: we await a fierce struggle for the throne of an aging dictator, Russian investigative journalist Roman Anin wrote 09 January 2023.

When "Putin leaves office, it will disrupt the balance of power, and a war of all against all will commence.... nothing weakens the power of a dictator more than aging and military defeat... The victory of one clan means the destruction of its rivals: they, at minimum, will have to give up their assets and influence, and maybe even their lives.... Putin has deprived himself and the state of a monopoly on violence. In addition to the army and law enforcement agencies, numerous private military groups operate in Russia."

By late March 2022, some observers suggested that with sanctions hitting the economy hard, a push to remove Putin from power may gather pace. In the early 20th century, the Russian Empire went through two revolutions linked with unpopular wars – one in 1905 after the humiliating defeat in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05, and another in 1917 during the Great War.

Ukrainian battlefields would determine the possibility of either a coup, or revolution, or the survival and consolidation of Putin’s regime. Perhaps the oligarchs and officials in Putin’s inner circle, frustrated at the sanctions and unable to enjoy their yacht cruises off the south of France, may try to unseat the president. But Putin had thoroughly cleansed them over the years and keeps them on a tight leash, and they won’t step forward. Putin may only be able to go on as head of his country if he turns Russia into one giant jail, a place more like China.

It is “foolish” to believe that Western sanctions against Russian businesses could have any effect on the Moscow government, Russian ex-president and deputy head of security council, Dmitry Medvedev, said. The sanctions will only consolidate the Russian society and not cause popular discontent with the authorities, Medvedev told Russia’s RIA news agency. But Medvedev publicly stated that the decision to conduct the hardest special operation (war) against Ukraine, including attacks on peaceful cities, was made solely by the President. The ruling elite is trying to distance itself, understanding the legal consequences.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he agreed with the provisions of Russia's Constitution barring a president from seeking a third consecutive term in office. Putin became Russia's president on January 31, 1999, winning elections in 2000 and 2004. In 2008, upon completion of his second term in office, Putin left the presidency and was appointed as Russia's prime minister by President Dmitry Medvedev. The Russian president was reelected for his second consecutive term as president in 2018, with the next presidential election scheduled to take place in March 2024.

In January 2020 Putin proposed election of the Prime Minister by the Duma. He would himself again shift over to being Prime Minister and can thus remain in office until he is carried out feet first. In the Soviet era it was said "Lenin Lived, Lenin Lives, Lenin Will Live", famous lines from a 1924 poem by Vladimir Mayakovsky. And now it may be said "Putin Lived, Putin Lives, Putin Will Live".

Russia seemed to face a succession crisis in 2024, when Russian constitutional terms limits say Putin will be ineligible to seek another consecutive term. Putin's mandate will not expire until 2024 but the problem needed immediate attention because the uncertainty about his long-term future is a source of instability in a fractious ruling elite that only he can keep in check. "The Russian political scene is entering a new phase," Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Kremlin adviser who is now critical of the country's leadership, said in March 2018. "Most discussion within the ruling elite focuses not on the next stage of the Putin era but on what will constitute the post-Putin era." The elites are going to find the succession issue unacceptable, because whoever Putin’s successor is, this successor would have to — despite staying loyal to Putin — reshuffle the elites in order to maintain power.

Putin was president for two consecutive, four-year terms, from 2000 to 2008 and returned to the presidency in May 2012 after serving four years as prime minister under President Dmitry Medvedev. The Russian Constitution was amended in 2008 to increase the presidential term to six years from four previously. Under the law, the same person may not hold the presidency for more than two consecutive terms, so Putin could be re-elected to a fourth, six-year term in 2018, keeping him in the presidency until 2024, at which time he would be 72 years old, having served 20 years in office [Stalin reigned 27 years, and Brezhnev was boss for 18 years].

Under Article 92 of the Constitution, "2. The President of the Russian Federation shall cease to exercise his powers short of the term in case of his resignation, stable inability because of health reasons to exercise the powers vested in him or in case of impeachment. In this case the election of the President of the Russian Federation shall take place not later than three months since the termination of the powers short of the term.

3. In all cases when the President of the Russian Federation is incapable of fulfilling his duties, they shall temporarily fulfilled by the Chairman of the Government of the Russian Federation. The Acting President of the Russian Federation shall have no right to dissolve the State Duma, appoint a referendum, and also provisions of the Constitution of the Russian Federation."

At the end of the Great Patriotic War, all party and government power remained, as before, in Stalin's hands and the organs of "collective leadership," such as the party's Central Committee and the Politburo, were practically impotent. The Central Committee was being more and more neglected by its General Secretary; meetings, when they took place (at intervals of several years), served only to say "yes" to Stalin's proposals. Miklós Kun ntoed that after "the last Party plenum convention in February 1947 when Stalin resigned as head of the military, he had refused to be present at all or deliver speeches to his subordinates. By doing so, he was letting Party underlings know that he was no longer interested in formalities in contrast to before when he was careful to have the most important rules ratified by the Central Committee."

Despite this evisceration by Stalin, upon his death all the various organis of state power functioned more or less according to their formal responsibilities in the selection of Stalin's successors.

It had been long predicted that Kremlin clan rivalries would heat up as the 2008 succession date approached. In the absence of political institutions, the glue of the system created by Putin was his personalized power and the loyalty of those he had appointed to key positions. Putin attempted to preserve that power by keeping those jockeying for continued influence off balance. His strategy was to further reduce the transparency of the process, continue to appoint Petersburgers of proven loyalty to key positions, make liberal use of the element of surprise, and indicate, more and more unmistakably, that he will remain a force to contend with.

While authoritarian and over-centralized, the Russian political system rests on the acquiescence of the governed. Vladimir Putin remained popular. For this democratically legitimized authoritarian system to continue to operate in the current mode, Putin's successor needs to be genuinely popular. Putin’s successor might have to follow in his footsteps, consolidating the new rule by denouncing his predecessor and forcing today’s Kremlin team into early retirement. Russia, unlike China, makes no provision for an elder statesman who can exercise influence at a respectable distance.

Skepticism about Putin's intentions was long fed by the opaque nature of the succession process and the lack of historical precedent. Should the status quo hold, Putin will be the first relatively young, healthy, and popular leader in Russian history to voluntarily depart office. Instead of engendering pride that Russia is becoming "a normal country," that prospect is creating anxiety among many who associate the end of the Putin era with the end of stability.

By 2006 the preoccupation with succession politics, and an attendant increase in infighting over politics and assets, left less Kremlin time and energy for policymaking. The Kremlin was working in overkill mode to neutralize any threats to its succession scenario, notably from Dmitriy Rogozin and Mikhail Kasyanov.

In 2008 both informal successors (first deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, who was also a deputy (PM), had obvious problems with electoral appeal. Medvedev's televison appearances left the impression of weakness and indecisiveness, while Sergey Ivanov had more successfully captured the "presidential" style that reminds viewers of Putin. Discussion also includes other possible contenders, with Dmitriy Kozak and Sergey Sobyanin appearing most frequently.

In mid-July 2007 Igor Ivanov resigned from his post as Secretary of the Security Council and was replaced by Valentin Sobolev. Speculation about the causes of Ivanov’s removal focused on the burning question of Putin’s successor as President and the fact that Ivanov had become too prominent a candidate for those in the presidential administration.

By moving Dmitriy Medvedev from Presidential Administration (PA) chief to First Deputy Prime Minister and above all by placing him in charge of the national priority projects, Putin appeared motivated by a desire to give Medvedev a higher public profile and to increase his popularity as a way to lay the groundwork for presidential anointment. Putin's successor, new Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, was hand-picked by Putin and elected with more than 70 percent of all votes.

Putin tried to maintain the image of a physically strong, decisive leader who can be counted on to solve challenging problems. He is a judo black belt, had shot tigers and eats raw eggs for breakfast, but rumors of Vladimir Putin's health problems continue to circulate. Putin's presidency followed Boris Yeltsin, whose obvious physical decline while in office was a source of embarrassment for many Russians. This followed the frail gerentocracy of Andropov, Chernenko, and the declining Brezhnev. Aleksei Venediktov, a prominent journalist and editor of Ekho Moskvy, which broke the news of Yeltsin's medical difficulties in the mid-1990s, said of Putin that " ... of course he will try to preserve the image of an absolutely health and eternally young person."

In 2013 Russian men on average lived for 65.7 years, and only 58.9 years were spent in good health. Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin was born on 07 October 1952. At age 61 in 2013, Putin was already beating the odds on good health, and migh have no more than another five yers of life. But Putin's health care is not average, and the main reason for the extraordinary difference in premature death between Western and Eastern Europe is vodka, lots of vodka.

Vladimir Lenin (1870–1924) died at age 54, Joseph Stalin (1878–1953) died at age 75, Leonid Brezhnev (1906–1982) died at age 76, Yuri Andropov (1914–1984) died at age 70, and Konstantin Chernenko (1911–1985) died at age 74. Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin died April 24, 2007 at the age of 76, after along period of poor health. Given a typical lifespan of these leaders of about 75 years, Putin might be expected to live until the year 2027.

Putin visibly limped during the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation Forum in Vladivostok in September 2012, and several scheduled domestic and international engagements were postponed until December. A long-running health issue was likely to have been exacerbated by a September stunt when Putin took to the Siberian skies in a motorised hang-glider to lead a flock of rare cranes on the first leg of their migration.

In November 2012, Putin displayed a rare moment of weakness when he succumbed to an apparent back injury that led him to scale back his schedule. In January 2014, the US magazine The Week reported about rumors that Putin is "seriously ill" and "perhaps" had cancer of the spinal cord. The piece cites "seasoned observers" as its source. In October 2014, the US tabloid The New York Post quoted unidentified "sources" as saying that Putin was suffering from deadly pancreatic cancer. The newspaper suggested the information originated with an elderly German doctor who had treated Putin.

By 13 March 2015 Putin had not been seen in public for at least a week, fueling speculations about his health. But he had not been seen in public since hosting Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi 05 March 2015. Social media headlines reporting allegations from the Russian Internet that Putin is dead prompted the mainstream media worldwide to speculate about the Russian president's state of health.

Vladimir Putin made a triumphant return to the public eye on 13 March 2015, laughing off “gossip” about ill health as he posed for the cameras with the President of Kyrgyzstan. But reporters described Putin as “sweaty”, “shiny”, “puffy” and “ill-looking” during the engagement. Jason Corcoran, a reporter for Bloomberg News, said he appeared as if he were suffering from the flu and was “puffy, sniffling and sweating”. Leonid Ragozin, a Moscow based journalist, said the President’s face looked like he had “gained some weight”.

By 2015 dissatisfaction with Putin among Russia’s oligarchs was growing, as their business was suffering. Andrey Okara, director of the Moscow Center for East European Research, said “they talk about this openly but are not able to influence Putin. Otherwise they risk suffering the fate of Mikhail Khodorkovsky who was in prison for ten years. In Russia, you are either with the president” or else. Nonetheless, he continues, “in Putin’s entourage,” there are people who today “are quietly searching” for a successor, with the names of Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu and Vice Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin being the most often mentioned. “But for the time being there are no alternatives to Putin” in fact.

Opinion polls consistently rate Sergei Shoigu the government’s most popular minister. Shoygu might be a strong candidate for Russia’s highest political office if his good friend, Vladimir Putin, were to leavet office in th near term. As always, the Russian leadership succession process remains opaque. No one close to the throne will dare to announce his presidential aspirations out of fear of being removed. For political reasons, Shoygu’s appointment as minister of defense in 2012 was not well received by Kremlin insiders such as S.Ivanov, D.Rogozin or I.Sechin.

As of early 2016 there waere several distinct cohorts among those mentioned at one time or another as potential successors to Putin

  1. Gerontocracy Viktor Alekseyevich Zubkov was born in 1941, and is nearly a dozen years older than Putin. Should he remain in the land of the living when a successor is selected, he would seem an unlikely choice unless there was a desire for a shrot Presidency in the face of an inabilty to agree on a candidate satisfactory for the longer term.

  2. Near Peers Putin himself was born in 1952, as was Sergei Chemezov, while Sergei Ivanov was born in 1953 and Sergei Shoigu in 1955. Depending on the timing of the succession, al these individuals present the risk of a rerun of the leadership succession in the period of stagnation, with a sequence of brief reigns by frail rulers. At present, Shoigu is highly visible and quite popular, but rose through the ranks by his own bootstraps, rather than by virute of having play hockey with Putin in St. Petersberg back in the 1990s.

  3. Understudies Dmitri Rogozin was born in 1963, while Dmitry Anatoliyevich Medvedev was born in 1965. Rogozin is a loose cannon, while Medvedev already had experience in the top spot, so he remains the odds-down favorite.

  4. Young Guns Igor Kholmanskikh was born in 1969, Alexey Dyumin was born in 1972, and Ramzan Kadyrov was born in 1976. Assuming that Putin is replaced in 2027 at the end of his nominal life expectancy, each of these indiduals would be in their 50s. But if one contemplates the bewildering array of individuals on whom the spotlight had briefly shown in Russia, it would seem improbable that any of these folks would still be on the national stage at that time.
The failure to create institutions able to regulate the transition process painted the President into a corner and frustrated his efforts to create a system of governance that could survive his departure. One commentator likened succession to transferring a spider web from the branch of one tree to another.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of Russia’s second-largest opposition party, named the eight candidates he believes are most likely to replace Vladimir Putin as Russian president. Zhirinovsky, often mocked as a clown by the media and intelligentsia, is Russia’s most popular political figure outside of the government. A recent Levada poll put his ‘trust rating’ at 13 percent. That’s more than four times higher than the Western-leaning opposition figure Alexey Navalny (3 percent).

Speaking on ‘Evening with Vladimir Soloviev’, on the Russia 1 TV channel, on 27 December 2020, Zhirinovsky reeled off a list of Russian political figures, including one woman and one former president, who may succeed Putin in the Kremlin. The nationalist firebrand had been on the frontlines of Russian politics for almost three decades, as leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, and is well placed to judge.

  1. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, the former tax official who became head of the government in January 2020, was the first candidate named by Zhirinovsky. Previously unknown to the vast majority of the populace, Mishustin had rapidly become a respected figure, and was soon only behind Putin in terms of his trust rating.
  2. Sergey Shoigu, another official who pollrd among the most popular, was also mentioned Zhirinovsky. He is the current minister of defense and was previously the governor of the Moscow Region. Shoigu is from the Republic of Tyva, on the border with Mongolia, and is one of the few representatives of Russia’s ethnic minorities at the highest echelons of government, snf sd s non-Rusisn presumably barred from the highest office.
  3. Sergey Naryshkin, a former politician who is now the director of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, was next on the list. Of a similar age to Putin, Naryshkin had been involved at the Russian government’s highest levels for some time, having previously been a deputy prime minister, chief of the presidential administration, and chairman of the State Duma.
  4. Vyacheslav Volodin, the current chairman of the parliament, was also on Zhirinovsky’s list. A former deputy prime minister, Volodin had been a close aide of Putin, and had long been rumored to have presidential ambitions.
  5. Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin, a politician who sometimes splits opinion in the capital, was on Zhirinovsky’s list. Sobyanin is credited with transforming the city during his 10-year tenure, having invested billions in both infrastructure and cosmetic changes. A recent poll of Muscovites ranked him as more trusted by the city’s residents than Putin.
  6. Valentina Matviyenko was the only woman o the list of eight possible candidates. Matviyenko is a senator and the chair of Russia’s upper house, having taken the role following an eight-year stint as Governor of St. Petersburg. Matviyenko’s governorship saw the city build substantial infrastructure projects, such as bridges and a new ring road, and developed the metropolis into one of the top tourist centers in Europe. However, the 71-year-old is not universally popular in St. Petersburg, and is blamed by many for supporting modern building projects that clash with the centuries-old aesthetic of the city.
  7. Alexey Dyumin, the current governor of the Tula Region, 200km from Moscow, was the youngest person named by Zhirinovsky. At just 48, is Dyumin is thought internationally to have played a vital role in the reabsorption of Crimea in 2014, which he had denied. Prior to his role in Tula, he was deputy minister of defense.
  8. Dmitry Medvedev, Putin’s long-time right-hand man, was the final name on the list. A former Russian president , Medvedev is far less popular than his mentor, and left his role as prime minister last year to become deputy chairman of the Security Council. In December, a Russian opinion poll named his resignation as the best political event of 2020.

Despite listing many other candidates, Zhirinovsky predicted that none of these eight would become Russia’s next leader, however.

Putin said on 17 April 2014 he had no plans of remaining president for life. While answering a question during a live Q&A session with the public on whether he will remain president for life, Putin responded: “No.”

The inherent contradiction between ensuring Putin's long-term political influence, while overseeing his departure from the presidency, continued to color decisionmaking and preoccupy the Kremlin leadership. Putin knew from personal experience that "new clans, and new praetorians" would form around his successor.

By the year 2024 Putin's contemporaries would also be in their early seventies, and it was unclear whether there is much appetite in Moscow for a new gerontocracy. The decision-making on the 2008 succession evidently did not begin in earnest much before 2006, so the 2024 succession contest may not begin in earnest prior to 2022. Putin's eventual successor is laboring in relative obscurity today, a rude beast slouching towards the Kremlin.

Alexander Dugin wrote: "The West is completely unaware that the only one with whom it is still possible to build relations is only and exclusively Putin himself. The maniacal idea of removing it, liquidating it, destroying it, testifies to the loss of a sense of the real in the collective West. With "after-Putin" - that's who it will be simply impossible to agree with. He - whoever he is - will not have a mandate, authority for this. The only thing he will be free to do is to fight the West until the Victory and not to restrain, but to accelerate patriotic reforms - perhaps no longer in Putin's soft, but in hard (Prigozhin's) key.... this "anyone" will have to immediately switch not just to the language of patriotism, but to the language of ultra-patriotism."

"Of course, there is someone in power, these are, first of all, direct followers of the Gorbachev-Yeltsin course of unconditional rapprochement with the West, who would like to end the war on any grounds . But they cannot talk about it directly, and if they openly start doing something in this direction, the consequences will be quite severe. All those who think responsibly in power understand that it is simply impossible to stop the NWO in the state it is in. For a variety of reasons. The West is categorically against stopping it, and the Kiev Nazi regime will perceive this as our capitulation. To top it off, this will be perceived by society as a complete discredit of the authorities, and the political system will simply collapse. Therefore, only a traitor, an enemy of Russia, the people and the state, can want peace in such conditions."

For a long time, Putin's regime satisfied many geopolitical players, as it solved several problems. First, it kept the Russian Federation in a state of relative peace and stability, which was especially noticeable against the backdrop of chaos during the reign of Putin’s predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. Second, he ensured a stable supply of oil, gas, and other essential raw materials to world markets. For a long time, the elites of the world’s leading democracies preferred to turn a blind eye to human rights violations in Russia itself, the lack of democracy and real freedom of speech, and, finally, to acts of military aggression against Ukraine and Georgia.

The full-scale invasion of Ukraine by the Russian army made it impossible to turn a blind eye to the Kremlin’s crimes, which was reflected, in particular, in the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for the Russian president. Given all the crimes, Putin can no longer be recognized as a partner for relations. But this increases the urgency of the question of what awaits Russia after Putin. Obviously, no matter how Putin loses power (through natural death or overthrow), this question will arise soon enough.

Unlike the ideologized Soviet totalitarianism, Putin’s regime is very personal. There is nothing ideological in it, only a set of propaganda theses needed to consolidate power. After Putin, power will most likely be in the hands of his closest associates, who have been selected for years according to the criteria of uncharismatic, inexpressive, and uninteresting. Theoretically, after Putin’s own reign ends, the regime he founded can continue to function, relying on its basic resources: the propaganda machine, the repressive apparatus, and deep ties within the elites. But this will obviously not be the case forever, because the crisis in society will continue to grow.

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