If before the attempt to poison Alexei Navalny, the Russian president also had thoughts about leaving the Kremlin, now Vladimir Putin probably does not see the possibility of such an exit, according to a Belarusian political scientist.
Russia held a referendum on constitutional reform last year. It was believed that through the constitutional amendment, the Russian regime would ensure that at some point in the future Putin would transfer power to someone else. In the end, however, the reform proved to be just a means of resuming Putin’s presidency.
However, there was a possibility that Putin would leave after 2024. But after recent events in Russia, Putin’s infinite rule is unlikely to be an alternative, writes the European Council on Foreign Relations (“European Council on Foreign Relations” (ECFR)) visiting researcher, former Belarusian diplomat Pavel Slunkin in the commentpublished on the ECFR portal.
He argues: “In just a few years, Putin’s image in the eyes of the Russian people has changed, and the ‘strong and just national leader’ is now associated with corruption and a passion for luxury.” Accusations his personal involvement in last year’s assassination attempt on Alexei Navalny simply does not leave him with a chance for a secure future after leaving the presidency. It is unlikely that [likumā paredzētā] lifelong immunity from persecution in Russia, the Federal Security Service or, for example, a symbolic post in parliament will give him a sense of personal security. Putin knows better than anyone else the price of the rule of law in his country. He also knows very well where the loss of real leverage can lead. ”
A successor that is also a competitor
Under such circumstances, the transfer of power to even one of Putin’s most loyal followers has become very unlikely, the analyst believes. Any successor will inherit the same unlimited powers as the Russian President now, and this means that they may eventually be directed against himself.
Trying to control the new president would be too risky. Even the non-charismatic and loyal Dmitry Medvedev, as president, periodically demonstrated excessive independence – at a time when Putin still had enormous support from the Russian people and remained the real leader in the eyes of the people.
At the end of January, according to the Public Opinion Fund (“Public opinion”) survey results, Putin’s rating had decreased to a minimum over the last year and accounted for 53%. His image has been damaged by a series of unpleasant incidents, and according to Slunkin, Putin currently has neither the resources nor the bold ideas to help him regain his former love for the people. Therefore, any successor to Putin will sooner or later be tempted to move as far away from him as possible, and this hypothetical successor will not be under Putin’s control or influence, the author writes.
But even assuming that Putin will be able to ensure that he is ironically guaranteed immunity and a comfortable life in retirement, who will defend him if Russia’s political system, which is perhaps more fragile than it seems, will allow his ideological opponents to come to power?
Slunkin cites examples from the recent past of the post-Soviet space, when once beloved national leaders came behind bars. In Kyrgyzstan, President Almazbek Atambayev agreed to hand over power to his ally, but it was not long before he was already in captivity. In Armenia, after the 2018 People’s Revolution, former President Robert Kocharian was arrested and investigated ten years after his resignation (then released, double-arrested again and released again, most recently in the summer of 2020).
“The current attempts by the opposition to organize large-scale street protests in Russia will undoubtedly make Putin think about this issue. As long as he controls the structures and nomenclature of power himself, he can be sure that he will be able to use absolutely all resources and give any order for his salvation. But who knows how the next president will deal with this situation? The very idea that Putin’s fate may be in the hands of other people will be very unpleasant and unacceptable to him, “the analyst writes.
A closed circle of enemies
Putin is forced to stay in power also because of the international situation, Slunkin continues. According to him, the Russian president is captivated by the world conspiracy against Russia and attempts to weaken or even divide his country. After all, it is a vicious circle. First of all, those in power in Russia have told themselves that there are enemies all around. Then they start behaving as if all the other countries are enemies. In response to this, those in power in Russia conclude that their concerns have been confirmed – friends would not impose sanctions, while real enemies must be strongly countered.
Therefore, there is no prospect of a slack or a real improvement in relations with the West on the horizon. “And I wonder if in such difficult times for the country the national leader, whom Putin no doubt believes, will be ready to leave Russia. He must remain in office and save his homeland.
The well-oiled authoritarian system of power preservation created by Putin has turned its creator into a hostage. “It simply came to our notice then. They rule, ”“ The Little Prince ” [rakstīja Antuāns de Sentekziperī]. In Putin’s case, the king does not even own his own life, “the analyst sums up.
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