Three weeks before the end of 2019 and on the eve of 2020, we go through the complete list of “Putin’s successors”, i.e. the persons considered as the most likely stuntmen of the incumbent Russian President.
The “Preyemnik (Successor) operation” or the “Transit operation” were the headlines of the articles published by Russian and other mass media during 2019, the articles presented numerous versions by experts, political scientists, analysts, and columnists. And each and every interviewee had a new version every time. It is by no means surprising: according to the current Constitution, the term in office of the incumbent head of state Vladimir Putin expires in 2024, and if the Kremlin does not take a chance to carry out a comprehensive constitutional reform to keep the nation’s leader at the helm for another long period he will have to consider other options. It turns out that options are numerous. At least, their names come to mind, time and time again, of those who are commonly believed to be the persons having the guts to express their opinions and forums to get across these opinions to as many people as possible. Thus, three weeks before the end of 2019 and on the eve of 2020, we go through the complete list of “Putin’s successors”, i.e. the persons considered as the most likely stuntmen of the incumbent Russian President who have the highest chance to take his current place or have, at least, the relevant ambitions. It is worth noting that, at a rough estimate, the army of Putin’s stuntmen appears to be quite large. Successor No. 1 Numerous experts have long appointed the current Chairman of the Russian Government Dmitriy Medvedev as Putin’s successor number one. The arguments supporting the idea that the prime minister’s nomination is the most obvious one for the future transit in the main governmental post include, in the first place, the fact that Vladimir Vladimirovich trusts Medvedev unreservedly. People recollect that Medvedev already participated in the so-called “castling move” once, was elected the President, and vacated the post to the old new head of state quietly and “without surprises” upon the end of his presidential term. Speaking of which, it is generally accepted that Dmitriy Anatolyevich earned the trust exactly by this act. All in all, Putin and Medvedev’s tandem has long been perceived by the society and b the experts as something inseparable. Moreover, some political scientists have already had a chance to express their opinions that the presidential team is earnestly preparing to promote the prime minister to replace the President in the foreseeable future. A version actually exists that all recent decisions of the authorities received by the people quite critically and antagonistically can pursue the same objective. For example, it was stated not long ago that even the pension reform to increase the retirement age was a part of the cunning scheme to transit power to Medvedev who would just have to select return to the previous retirement age in the country as the key thesis of his programme in order to win the next presidential election. Obviously, arguments against such a decision are numerous. The main one is immense mistrust of the head of the Cabinet of Ministers existing in the society, among experts, numerous political scientists, opposition politicians in the first place. It is Medvedev who has been recently accused of almost all misfortunes of the Russians which, by the way, should be deemed the result of the work not only of his team but also of the pro-government majority in the lower chamber of the Parliament and of the Presidential Administration, of course. Russians’ Favourite Ministers Among the most probable successors of Vladimir Putin, the names of a number of ministers were mentioned, it was stated that they had been able to earn great trust and respect of the citizens and colleagues and had not marred their reputations. And it is just the case, if one considers the fact that the public perceives the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov and the Minister of Defence Sergey Shoigu not as members of the Prime Minister Medvedev’s team but as persons in Putin’s inner circle who advocate for the nation’s success at home and in the international arena and do not make critical mistakes. Moreover, even the opposition activists hardly ever criticise Sergey Victorovich and Sergey Kuzhugetovich. At the same time, in the situation of the international environment which has aggravated in the recent years and of the complicated relations between Russian and the Western countries, it is the heads of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and of the Ministry of Defence are perceived as advocates of the stability and confidence about the future which are mentioned by the federal centre so often. Finally, it is generally accepted that it is these two of the army of the federal public servants who carry the flag of the Russian Federation with dignity through storm and misfortune which, by all accounts, becomes a permanent situation for Russia. By the way, if one makes allowance for the fact that strained relations with the West, the pressure of the sanctions, and the conflicts in the international arena are not going to disappear in the coming years, it is Shoigu and Lavrov as the most stable ministers of the recent years who have great experience and special assumed aura of internal strength who can seem to be the most adequate choice to replace Vladimir Putin in the presidential post. However, several serious inconsistencies exist in the case. Thus, the fact that Vladimir Vladimirovich seems to be in poor shape, that the declining years of the Russian President and fatigue accumulated during the years in power manifest themselves supports the version that Putin will not amend the Constitution and actually intends to “retire”. But how does it relate to the above two candidates? For example, Lavrov is two years older than Putin and had occupied senior governmental posts for several dozens of years. In the end, for 15 years already, Lavrov has occupied the office of the head of the Russian diplomacy, which, by all means, makes impact making his work particularly difficult and challenging in the situation of “special” relations of Russia with far too many Western countries. What presidency can we talk about? With certain reservations, the same relates to the Minister of Defence Shoigu who seems to be tailored to resolve internal issues, does not look as confident even in the position of the military leader as he used to look in the position of the head of the Ministry of Emergencies. The only argument for his candidature is that it will be possible to make the public believe that stability and security will depend in the coming years on the military potential only, and thus the government should be controlled by a military officer. As to the age, Sergey Kuzhugetovich is almost as old as Putin and Lavrov, he is only 2.5 years younger than the President. “Tourist Traders” from the Regions It is important to bear in mind that the discussion about Vladimir Putin leaving the post number one and about his potential successors has been held for a long time. Therefore, it has been surrounded with names of persons who have nothing to do with the federal centre. Thus, in the opinion of a number of political scientists, somebody from among the young governors whose work will be allegedly watched closely by the Kremlin in the coming years can be selected to become the successor at the very last minute. This version is supported by the assertion that, in the recent years, the centre has somewhat lost normal contact with the constituent entities recently and has thus appointed promising young managers to some regions who will have not just to get up and running normal economic work at the local level but also to handle the local elites. Rumour has it that the one who will succeed will have all chances to experience immense career soar. It is remarkable that certain names are rarely mentioned in this transit theory while intertwining with arguments about appointments, hidden messages in Putin’s statements and so on. However, Alexey Dyumin appointed to manage Tula Region in 2016 as well as Dmitriy Mironov later elected to the same office in Yaroslavl Region a year later received individual mention. Then again, this version has its weak points. For example, how one should treat the statements about the “young” governors if the public has been told about the experience, wisdom, endurance, and numerous other positive traits of the age close to the one of which the President himself can boast. Speaking about representatives of regions, one should mention, in the first place, the capital mayor Sergey Sobyanin – he is arguably the only potential candidate who can be credited with successful management of his region in the past, equally successful work in Moscow as well as significant experience and authority to have chances to lead the country in the future, However, his name is not perceived anyhow striking with the word “president” on the subconscious level. Unexpected Candidates The list of potential successors includes some names which are not directly associated with the expression “transit of power”. They are not numerous but each of them has a certain background enabling to speak about them as persons with certain prospects of a political career. In the first place, it is important to mention the current speaker of the lower chamber of the Russian Parliament Vyacheslav Volodin. Noting great authority of the head of the State Duma, political scientists mentioned previously on numerous occasions that he had been one of the first to create a convenient base for future fight for power in the country which can start if the incumbent head of state actually decides to resign. The experts came to the conclusion upon Volodin had suggest amending certain rules providing the State Duma with the possibility to control the government and to request the ministers to report. The attempt to expand the powers of the body headed by him fits well into Volodin’s overall rhetoric which, as the experts note, has recently become more critical in relation to the main candidates for the future fight for the post number one. The second unexpected candidate is the current head of the Audit Chamber of Russia Alexey Kudrin whom Putin called his friend previously. Again, Kudrin’s ambition to inflict reputational harm on his potential competitors represented by the Prime Minister Medvedev, in the first place. There is no other explanation of the fact that the auditors of the Audit Chamber have recently denounced the Cabinet of Ministers more and more often and have provided a lot of reasons to accuse him of manipulating the key socio-economic data concerning the actual situation in the country. Putin to Replace Putin Finally, one should not dismiss the version that the Successor operation will take place without a successor as such, more correctly, a successor will be there but his role will be nominal while absolute power will remain concentrated by the incumbent President who will just change the office but not its importance and status upon the end of his term under the Constitution. Put simply, Vladimir Putin will replace Vladimir Putin in the position of the actual head of state. The most viable version in the case is that of a constitutional reform upon which absolute power will be transferred to the newly established State Council headed by Putin, and it will be possible to elect to the presidential office in the case because importance of the office can be completely neutralised following the suit of organisation of power in Germany or Italy. One more theory of Vladimir Vladimirovich remaining at the helm, although less probable, consists in establishing an absolutely new state. This involves one and the same Union State of Belarus and Russia. However, judging by the ever-changing rhetoric of the Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenka and growing opposition of the Belarusian society to integration, the Kremlin should not put great hope on it.