Russia Without Vladimir Putin

A “Russia without Putin” will certainly come about, probably sooner rather than later. It is therefore worth thinking about not only the consequences, but also about the prerequisites of a smooth transition as the sudden collapse of systems of personal power can be very unpleasant indeed, as aptly demonstrated by much of the Arab world.

Valdaiclub.com has asked some of its experts to speculate on the possible analysis and scenarios of Russia’s development if the current Prime Minister and presidential candidate Vladimir Putin is not elected during the presidential elections on March 4.

“Russia without Putin” under present circumstances is not only a speculative exercise, in light of the alternatives it is also beyond any measure of probability (and desirability). This makes it a mere campaign scoop. 

However, even under present circumstances things can be different. This was best demonstrated by the past four years and the widespread speculation about a Mister X to succeed Dmitry Medvedev in the Kremlin. Up until 24 September 2011 there were no apocalyptic visions but a sense of positive direction, even optimism, which immediately collapsed when – in a unique display of arrogance of power - Medvedev and Putin not only announced to swap seats but also confirmed to have decided upon that four years ago. This made the interlude a mere faked “Russia without Putin”.

The real Russia, and thus the most serious liability, is the system of personal power that was built in “Russia with (and by) Putin”. It is the exact opposite of what allegedly Putin is aiming at: a democratic system, based on institutions, rules, procedures and thus checks and balances. His promise of stability, therefore, not only leads into the wrong direction and harbors the very real risk of stagnation, it also carries the seeds of destabilization and fragmentation.

A “Russia without Putin” will certainly come about, probably sooner rather than later. It is therefore worth thinking about not only the consequences, but also about the prerequisites of a smooth transition as the sudden collapse of systems of personal power can be very unpleasant indeed, as aptly demonstrated by much of the Arab world.

The greatest challenge for such a transition is almost by definition internal. This applies even more in light of present international conditions that make it hard to connect internal and external developments in a fashion that contribute to escalation and allow for exploitation by foreign powers. It needs a rare combination of long-standing mutual hostility, geostrategic posturing and violent internal uprising to think of a “Syrian” scenario in other countries.

Contrary to Putin’s assumption the “West” in general does not care much about Russia, either way. This by and large also applies to the US, Putin’s favorite bogeyman. The external environment therefore does not leave much room for a fundamental shift in Russia’s foreign policy “without Putin”. Its main characteristics, i.e. the predominantly reactive pattern and the concert-type maneuvering between different poles, are bound to last. Integrating with the West is no feasible option, confronting the West not desirable. This not only reflects the external conditions but also seems to get along with the dominant mood of the population.

The current lack of ideology or «безыдейность» (Timofei Bordachev) of Russia’s foreign policy can be considered a pragmatic advantage in the context of global uncertainty. This ideational core - multipolarity and sovereignty - will persist. But it makes a difference who is in charge and gives both a practical meaning. Foreign policy is as much about material interests as about less tangible symbolic factors. In that sense “Russia without Putin” is not a threat, it is a promise.
Evgenya Bakalova has contributed to the article.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.