There are at least two reasons why the Kremlin is working to avoid any transition of power from Vladimir Putin to someone else, Vitaly Shklyarov says, making all the discussion among the Russian commentariat and beyond “a waste of time” and a distraction from what is going on.
The first of these is the more obvious, the New Times commentator says. Putin has concentrated power in his hands far more than was the case in 2008, and thus a repeat of any “tandem” relationship is “an absolutely unrealistic scenario” now or at any time in the future.
In 2008, Putin was extremely popular and everyone expected his return after four years.
[quote]“Now, the situation is different.” Not only is Putin increasingly unpopular, but “even if one assumes that in 2024, Putin will again leave the post of president … then it is obvious that already no one will expect his return in 2030 when he would be 78 years old.”[/quote]
Any of the scenarios analysts have come up with for such an arrangement – having Putin retain power behind the scenes in the Kazakhstan model or creating a new union state, to name but two – presuppose creating “within the Russian system of power, even if only temporarily – a second center of power.”
In 2008, the system could cope with that, Shklyarov says; “but that was another Russia with another economy. The country’s political and economic system is far more corrupt and ineffective now than it was then, and there is no reason to think that this trend will change over the next five years.
“Already now,” he continues, “a large part of the most important decisions are taken in a hands’ on way by Putin himself, not infrequently without sufficient preliminary consideration of the consequences.” If officials and economic leaders had to coordinate their actions not with one center of power but two, if that were possible, “the struggle for power would lead to collapse.”
In combination with the fact that “no one will believe in Putin’s return in 2030,” this will mean that as soon as he leaves the presidency, he will “lose real power to the second center whatever it is. In the Presidential Administration,” Sklyarov continues, “they cannot not understand this.” And more, they have to recognize that “this is suicide.”
[quote]“The second cause of the impossibility of Putin’s departure,” the analyst says, “is a kind of continuation of the first: power is concentrated not simply in the hands of the president: it is concentrated in the hands of President Vladimir Putin.”[/quote]
There is no one within his entourage that others would be prepared to accept as president and not work to sabotage. Further, none of them is popular. Putin’s ratings have fallen over the last year, but there is no “really popular politician” he or anyone else could turn to. “Not one! Even defense minister Shoygu and foreign minister Lavrov” enjoy far less support that the increasingly unpopular Putin does.
The regime could ensure the victory of anyone in an election, but the unpopularity of any such person in the current environment would be such that others in the elite would feel free to undermine and sabotage him. That too is known within the Kremlin, and it is yet another reason not to make any change as long as Putin is alive.
Consequently, Sklyarov concludes, “one can assert that practically any scenario which presupposes the departure of Putin from the post of president in 2024 has for Putin himself and for the Russian political authorities as a whole many more risks than the preservation of the status quo.”
Most Russians have already gotten used to the idea that Putin is “’forever.’” And “therefore, as 2024 approaches, we probably will see how the task ‘not to change anything’ will become ever more the dominant idea in Russia.”
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