Russia after Putin: The Impending Dilemma


January 15th, 2018 – Fort Russ News – 

– op-ed by Padraig Joseph McGrath, the Irish Crimean, for FRN – 

Socialist Space Workers, Техника Молодежи (Youth Technics), Russia (1973)

The next critical juncture in the history of Russia’s domestic politics will arrive in March 2024.

It seems logical to assume that President Putin will decide that the presidential term commencing this coming spring should be his last. Otherwise, he would be committed to remaining president until the age of 77, which in spite of his hitherto perfect heath, seems like a stretch. Putin will not wait until the clarity of his thought-processes or his powers of concentration begin to even marginally deteriorate – he will not exit the stage like Yeltsin did. Putin will prudently decide to retire when the time is right.

However, the Russian state and the Russian people have an immense amount of preparation in front of them before either is ready for a post-Putin era. And this preparation needs to commence immediately after President Putin takes the oath for his final term. The entire next 6 years should be seen as preparation for his envisaged withdrawal from the arena, so as to enable a smooth transition of power when the time comes. If the transition doesn’t go smoothly, then the dangers for Russian society are immense.

Upon the death of Augustus Caesar in AD 14, Rome entered a protracted period of political crisis. This is typical in societies whose long-standing safe pair of hands exits the political arena. In Russia’s case, the most obvious danger in 2024 is that, if there is a disorderly power-struggle, then foreign institutional actors will manipulate it in an effort to destabilize Russia’s political sphere and economy. They hope to begin the economic re-colonization of Russia in 2024.

So the purpose of this article is to examine how the political, social and economic destabilization of the country can be avoided upon Putin’s planned departure, what questions the Russian people need to ask themselves in the meantime in order to prevent that from happening.

The first consideration which come to mind is that, as the international security-environment and the atmosphere of mutual distrust between Russia and the western alliance are unlikely to radically improve before 2024, it will probably be a pragmatic necessity that the next Russian president is another silovik, a Putin 2.0 rolled off the production-line, another safe pair of hands with a professional background in state-security, to steer the ship for another decade or more.

In this scenario, which seems highly probable, the trick question is, if Russia gets a Putin 2.0, then does that mean that Russia also gets a Medvedev 2.0?

As unfailingly popular as Putin has been throughout his era, most Russians would still grudgingly concede that, politically, Medvedev has always been Putin’s bullet-proof vest. Putin’s cult of personality has always depended on having somebody else to deliver the bad news, the implementation of unpopular economic policies, etc.

In 2024, this arrangement may not be politically tenable – Putin’s successor will need time, perhaps 2 or 3 years, to build his own cult of personality. Until he has done so, the Russian people will be less willing to tolerate another Medvedev.

This consideration brings us to the question of which strategies the KPRF and LDPR will adopt in order to position themselves for 2024. Pavel Grudinin’s presidential candidacy is, in essence, an exercise in gradually building electoral credibility. If Grudinin takes 20% of the vote this March, then it’s a solid performance, and it may help the KPRF or its partners across the spectrum of the Russian left to negotiate their way to a few cabinet-positions either before or after 2024. They may be in a position to bargain for this insofar as, following Putin’s planned departure, Edinaya Rossiya may very well find itself with a legitimacy-problem. Without the political capital of Putin’s cult of personality to draw upon, Edinaya Rossiya’s electoral position, in the short term at least, may be much weaker. It may prompt them to enter into a partial power-sharing arrangement, if not a formal coalition, with the KPRF and/or the LDPR. I have been prompted to think about these scenarios by, among other things, Dr. Eduard Popov’s Fort Russ article dated December 25th (“Russia’s New Communist Candidate: Friend or Foe of Vladimir Putin?”), in which Dr. Popov speculates about the possible future establishment of “a government of public trust” headed by President Putin – concretely, I imagined this to refer to a scenario wherein the KPRF and possibly the LDPR are assigned a limited number of ministerial positions in an informal power-sharing arrangement.

More generally, however, we can say simply that the main purpose of Grudinin’s candidacy is to help the Russian left to gradually build electoral credibility in preparation for a post-Putin era. At a certain tipping-point, which will need to be significantly in excess of 20% of the electorate’s support, the KPRF could acquire real bargaining-power. The more points Grudinin scores between now and March 18th, the better he furthers that medium-to-long-term goal.

And Grudinin has been scoring points, a task for which his own professional background has equipped him well. He is particularly sharp on the issue of import-substitution, and on the related issue of Russia’s internal economic development, particularly in the agricultural sector. While Grudinin and the KPRF have not by any means run a negative campaign, Grudinin’s candidacy still highlights Edinaya Rossiya’s greatest policy-failure, namely, implementation of domestic economic policy.

In Putin’s first ever speech to the Duma in August 1999, when he was introduced as a candidate for Prime Minister, he itemized a number of measures which had to be urgently undertaken in order to manage the multiple crises by which Russia was gripped at that time. Insofar as food-security was then a major concern for huge swathes of Russia’s population, one of the urgent measures which Putin mentioned was stimulation of the agricultural sector.

In 18 years of uninterrupted government, Edinaya Rossiya has never managed to do that. EU sanctions have somewhat incentivized investment in Russian agriculture, but Edinaya Rossiya’s track-record of policy-implementation in this area has still been very poor.

Electorally, that’s fine as long as the ruling party has a leader whose cult of personality helps to placate a dissatisfied electorate, but Edinaya Rossiya needs to be realistic – their historical record of policy-delivery and policy-implemention will become a much bigger electoral factor after 2024.

This is where I find myself conflicted, because I see the great dangers on the distant horizon. On the one hand, as a KPRF supporter, I obviously want to see the KPRF build a position of real bargaining-power. On the other hand, I fear the potential for political, social and economic destabilization which might arise from a power-struggle. Russia’s Occidental enemies can be relied upon to do everything in their power to manipulate any such power-struggle in an attempt to bring the Motherland to ruin. Russia’s only effective defence will be to have formed a national and political consensus well in advance, so as to ensure a smooth transition upon President Putin’s planned retirement. Whichever deal gets made, it needs to be finalized as soon as possible, or the dangers posed by western institutional actors will be immense. That is why the Russian people and their political classes need to begin discussing these questions as soon as the present election-cycle is completed.

Padraig McGrath was born in the Republic of Ireland in 1973. He has lived in Britain, Germany and the Czech Republic, and has published journalism and commentary on social and philosophical issues for a number of media for 15 years. He moved to Simferopol, Crimea in December 2013, 3 months before Crimea’s re-unification with Russia, and still lives there

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