Time to think about a successor
July 18, 2022
Abbas Gallyamov
Independent political consultant 
Abbas Gallyamov believes that reelecting Putin in 2024 would be a serious challenge for the Kremlin. At the same time, Putin’s ideas are still shared by the electorate. In this context, a successor project along the lines of “Putinism without Putin” would help to preserve stability.
Putin's first deputy chief of staff Sergey Kiriyenko (left) is in charge of Russia's domestic politics, 2019. Source: Wiki Commons
The Russian elites are politically rather irresponsible. They’re accustomed to believing that maintaining the stability of the regime is not their responsibility but Putin’s, and that their job is just to carry out his orders. And not to forget about themselves. Now the situation has changed. Putin has gone from being a stabilizing to a powerful destabilizing force for the system. But it's not just the crazy decisions he’s making – it’s also about public sentiment. There are already many reasons to believe that it’ll be much easier to elect a successor in 2024 than to push Putin through for another term. The latter could turn into a crash test for the system that it can't handle.

Recall that many of the color revolutions followed attempts by the authorities to rig elections. To assess the outlook for a Putin reelection, it’s foolish to look at current polls, as they have had no relation to real public opinion for four months now. Instead, we should rely on research done before the war, and first and foremost that of independent researchers. For example, take the poll conducted by the Belanovsky-Nikolskaya group in June 2020, ahead of the vote on the constitutional amendments. That was a time when the political consciousness of the country was awoken, similar to the atmosphere before important elections, like will be the case in 2024.

Back then, the researchers measured the level of support for individual amendments separately, making possible an assessment of how much support for the ideologically coloredamendments (“memory of ancestors who passed down faith in God to us;” “protecting historical truth;” “preventing the significance of the feat of the people in defending the Fatherland to be diminished;” etc) overlapped with support for the amendment allowing Putin to run for president two more times.

The exact figures are available on Belanovsky’s website cited above, but in general support for the amendment about resetting Putin’s presidential terms was three times lower than that for the ideological amendments.
“That is, two thirds of the voters who could vote for some other politician with the same Putinist platform no longer wanted to vote for Putin."
Vladimir Putin's public approval 1999–2020 (Levada, 2020). Source: Wiki Commons
Loyal electoral segments no longer see Putin as a unique personification of his own ideology – most of the voters who share it aren’t enthusiastic about the idea of growing old and passing away under the old president. At least for a couple of years he has been losing support, even among his core electorate.

A similar result was obtained by the Belanovsky group in another study done in June 2020. To the question "Would you like Putin to remain in office until 2036?" 20% responded in the affirmative and 54% in the negative. Or here’s a quote from a nonpublic report by the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) that looked at the mood among young people, which was recently leaked by Proekt: “Among the sources there are both those who like Putin and those who feel antipathy toward him, while many view him neutrally, indifferently. But practically no one would vote for him currently.”

Overall, the Russian elites have every reason to believe that in 2024 the country will vote against Putin. Moreover, until recently there had been no serious, widespread rejection of the foundations of the regime’s ideology. True, support has very much been eroding, but if the regime stopped angering people, then the majority would very probably vote for a new bearer of these ideas. At least for now.

The sooner the elites realize this, the sooner they tell Putin that resignation is inevitable, the sooner they launch a successor project, the sooner they announce “Putinism without Putin,” the better their chances for survival. Of course, they won’t be able to fully preserve their status and privileges – they’ll have to be shared with representatives of new segments of the population that had previously been un- or underrepresented in the system – but at least they might not end their days as doormen in European hotels, as happened to their predecessors after the 1917 revolution.
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