Monday, September 01, 2014


The Power Vertical

After Putin

Is Putin contemplating life after Putin?
Is Putin contemplating life after Putin?
Leonid Brezhnev did it. Boris Yeltsin did it. Is Vladimir Putin doing it, too?

Kremlin leaders tend to be obsessed with succession. They think about it. They worry about it. And they actively try to manage it.

In the latter Brezhnev years, the upper echelons of the Soviet elite, mindful of their own mortality, actively sought to promote a younger cadre from which the next generation of leaders would be drawn. It was a process that ultimately landed Mikhail Gorbachev in the Kremlin.

And throughout his presidency, the aging Yeltsin toyed with a number of potential successors before -- fatefully -- settling on Putin.

The reasons for the fixation are obvious. In the absence of institutions, traditions, and a political culture to assure a smooth transition of power, Russia's rulers seek to control the process themselves.

So are Putin and his entourage thinking about life after Putin?

Political analyst Gleb Pavlovsky, the onetime Kremlin spinmeister who was instrumental in strategizing and marketing the president's initial rise to power, thinks so.

"It is noticeable that Putin is considering the formation of a group from which he will be looking to choose the next president," Pavlovsky told the daily "Moskovsky komsomolets" recently.

"The difficulty lies in the fact that he has not yet decided whether he wants to see a successor by 2018 or if he will need one in 2024. In the second case there will, of course, be difficulties. It is hard to imagine keeping a pool of successors for 12 years. This group will inevitably be updated repeatedly."

Audition Of The Heavyweights

So if Putin is, indeed, actively thinking about succession, who's likely to be on his short list?

Probably not Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, whose political capital has been severely diminished and who seems to grow more alienated from Putin by the day.

"Dmitry Medvedev is a worn-out figure whose weakness is seen by everyone," political analyst Pavel Svtatenkov wrote recently in the online "Osobaya bukva."

Medvedev's comments in January that he may seek the presidency again were widely ridiculed. He backtracked in an interview with Bloomberg at the World Economic Forum in Davos, stressing that he would never run against Putin.

Shortly thereafter, he became the target of a series of attacks -- most notably a slickly produced video assailing his acquiescence to NATO's air campaign against Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi.

"Medvedev began to position himself too aggressively as Putin's successor," political analyst Aleksei Mukhin told the daily "Noviye izvestia." "Some circles deemed this premature and they struck several very powerful blows at the prime minister's political image." 

Many Kremlin watchers don't even expect Medvedev to last the year as prime minister.

If and when Putin finally sacks Medvedev, whom he appoints as a replacement will be a major tell.

If Medvedev is replaced with a "technical" prime minister with no political profile -- somebody like Mikhail Fradkov or Viktor Zubkov, for example -- it will be a surefire sign that Putin is probably not pondering succession yet.

But if he appoints a real heavyweight, that person will inevitably be looked at like a president-in-waiting.

"By making a heavyweight prime minister, you know that you are giving someone not just power but the power to make more power for themselves," NYU professor Mark Galeotti, author of the blog "In Moscow's Shadows," said on the latest "Power Vertical Podcast."

"You are making an active move...[and] one that you know that not only will everyone else interpret as having succession implications, but one that will make the heavyweight even heavier."
 
Moscow Mayor Sergei SobyaninMoscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin
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Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin
Two such heavyweights have been getting a fair bit of attention lately in the Russian media: Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
 
Since taking over as Moscow mayor following the sacking of Yury Luzhkov in September 2010, Sobyanin has enjoyed high popularity in the capital and good relations with the Kremlin. Putin reportedly sees him as loyal, but he has also seemed to go out of his way not to alienate the opposition.
 
"I think Putin is counting on him and has included him in his own plans for the future," Pavlovsky said. "I think that Sobyanin is on Putin's personal short list today. Medvedev is not."
 
Sergei ShoiguSergei Shoigu
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Sergei Shoigu
Sergei Shoigu
Shoigu's star has also been rising dramatically.
 
For more than a decade as emergencies minister he was Russia's action man, appearing at nearly every disaster, either natural or man-made.

And since taking over the scandal-plagued Defense Ministry in December he has become, by far, the most popular minister in the government.

"Sooner or later, the Kremlin will be faced with a dilemma: whether to use Shoigu's reputation or remove him from the scene," Svtatenkov writes.

Likewise, former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, a political heavyweight who remains close to Putin despite his flirtations with the opposition, has been touted as a replacement for Medvedev.

A Lame Duck?

Of course, today's potential successor could be tomorrow's footnote. Just ask would-be presidents Sergei Shakhrai, Vladimir Shumeiko, or Boris Nemtsov -- all of whom were at one time or another touted as successors to Yeltsin.

And all the succession chatter, of course, may be coming not because Putin himself thinks it's time to consider the issue but rather because others in the ruling elite do.

"It is hard to think of Putin yet actively thinking: 'It's time I went and who is going to be my chosen heir?'" Galeotti noted in last week's podcast.

"It's actually that others within the deep state are either beginning the auditions or allowing conversations about succession to percolate as a way of signaling to Putin that he really ought to be thinking in these terms -- and if he doesn't, then others will begin thinking about it for him."

If this is indeed the case it means that some in the elite are already looking at Putin as a lame duck. Which would explain much of the turbulence and public intrigue that has gripped the political class recently.

"This is a sign of people realizing that Putin is no longer Putin. He's lost his touch," Galeotti said. "And it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: The more people talk about a succession, the weaker Putin becomes."

But there is one funny thing about managed successions in Russia: They often don't turn out how their orchestrators intend. The Brezhnev elites' efforts to groom a young cadre of leaders led to the rise of two men -- Gorbachev and Yeltsin -- who would be instrumental in bringing down the Soviet Union.

And Yeltsin's inner circle, the so-called Family, settled on Putin because they believed he would protect their interests after their patron left the Kremlin. Just ask Boris Berezovsky how that worked out.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: succession,Vladimir Putin,Sergei Sobyanin,Sergei Shoigu

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Spencer from: Iowa
February 12, 2013 20:14
I enjoyed this article a lot. I'm also a recent convert to the podcast. Thanks for putting it together. If we are looking for potential Putin replacement candidates, where are the most likely areas to see them? Are we going to see them at the head of Gazprom (a la Medvedev), defense (Shoigu) or put in charge of a state-wide anti-corruption task force? Just curious as to where I should fix my gaze in the coming years.
In Response

by: Camel Anaturk from: Kurdistan
February 12, 2013 23:43
Thanx to the russian way of doing things in 20 years`time the rashkas will be a minority in their own country with the majority coming from the mooselem -stan countries.so we can expect a tatar to rule the land thats till the chinese take over,but in the short term Dear Spence you can look no further than these pages for Jack from your country and his bedfellow-Eugenio from Vienna who are sure to enrich these pages with the perrenial wisdom of their comments!!!

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
February 12, 2013 22:28
Now that the seat in the Vatican is clear, Putin may be thinking about a transfer. Just kidding!

I see no evidence that VVP is thinking about stepping down. As long as oil prices remain high, he will be able continue to ‘work like a galley slave’ to strengthen Mother Rus. He definitely wants to be in charge of the Kremlin during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. As painful as it may sound to some, I can see him leading the country for another decade.

My succession tea leaves are as dark as the rest, and although I know he’s a longshot, I’m putting my bets on D. Rogozin as the next Russian prez. He’s cunning and has proven to be sufficiently malleable to satisfy the various Kremlin clans.

In Response

by: Brian Whitmore from: Prague
February 13, 2013 07:15
Nowhere does this post suggest that VVP is thinking of stepping down. It suggests that either he or his inner circle (or both) are beginning to consider who they would want to succeed him, either in 2018 or 2024.
In Response

by: La Russophobe from: USA
February 15, 2013 10:43
Brian you seem to be contradicting yourself. You are saying it is believed Putin will step down "either in 2018 or 2024" as opposed to ruling as long as he lives, in the manner of Brezhnev. If he were not going to to step down, you'd be talking about who succeeds him after his funeral.
In Response

by: Camel Anaturk from: Kurdistan
February 13, 2013 13:50
No kidding Ray,no kidding!!! The head of the third Rome takes over the first Moscow-thats Rome of course and we may think of reviving the Roman,Byzantine and Soviet empires all three-in-one for once and for all time and Vladimir Vladimirovitch should be its emperor for life and after that,too!!!

by: La Russophobe from: USA
February 13, 2013 09:00
I don't agree that Medvedev was ever considered by Putin to be a possible successor, and don't believe there is any evidence to support this fantasy. Medvedev was chosen to become president specifically because Putin knew he could not rule Russia by himself, and has no desire to do so. Medvedev's noises have nothing to do with any actual desire for power, they have to do with his golden parachute. I also don't agree that Putin is giving any thought to a successor. The analogy to Brezhnev is apt, but it calls for the opposite conclusion, that there was no thought to successorship. That's why confusion and bedlam followed Brezhnev, because he held onto power in a greedy and reckless manner even when he wast totally unfit to wield it. Lenin did exactly that same thing, and that's why Stalin was able to grab power amid chaos. Putin is a classic Russian dictator who believes he'll live forever and the country cannot get along without him. You are projecting rationality and patriotism onto Putin as if he was like you, but you are not a career KGB spy and so such projection can only lead you astray.

by: peter from: ottawa
February 13, 2013 18:12
To all you poor naive slugs out there, there is no after Putin, Mr big has installed himself dictator for life , he still has another 12 years in power and will circumvent the system to his advantage as for Medvedev he s mr big s lap dog , hes all lick and no bite, as for the all others they are either in jail, in exile, or dead. End of story.

by: Vakhtang from: Moscow
February 14, 2013 04:14
I told you already that Putin will be sit in his place until he dies.
Нere in another danger-
Person does not want to die alone and he is always angry, why he had to die and others do not.
So, before his death Putin will press the special button and thousands of nuclear bombs explode.
Have you written a will, Mr.Whitmore?
I am sure that the cave in Kurdistan, where lives camel, also will not save.Putin is has foreseen all the options.

by: La Russophobe from: USA
February 27, 2013 22:09
This guy says you are being suckered by the Kremlin in asking such questions.

http://www.themoscowtimes.com/opinion/article/the-question-isnt-who-will-lead-russia/476150.html

About This Blog

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It covers emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or

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