As Russia stumbles into war in Ukraine, a question arises: Could Putin fall?
The possibilities range from the obvious – Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin is legally first in line – to the unpredictable: some Putin supporters fear the country could fall apart without his authoritative hand at the helm.
Putin himself came to power through a quasi-legal succession process – appointed deputy prime minister and then interim prime minister by President Boris Yeltsin, who resigned within five months, catapulting his hand-picked successor to the presidency.
It remains to be seen whether Putin will benefit from a similar opportunity to orchestrate his own succession. And if Mishustin, a former director of Russia’s federal tax service, ever becomes president, he is widely expected to be a short-term replacement.
Among the names mentioned as potential successors are Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, former President Dmitry Medvedev, longtime Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, and Patrushev’s son Dmitry, now Minister of Health. ‘Agriculture.
Putin faces the limits of his military might as Ukraine reclaims land
Speculation about Putin’s theoretical downfall has swirled as the president has been ousted abroad, by international condemnation of his war in Ukraine, and at home, by growing pressure from pro-war hawks and pro-propagandists. -Kremlin furious at military losses.
There are also growing feuds among the elite. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Russian oligarch Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner mercenary group, have bitterly attacked Russian military commanders for failures in Ukraine, sparking open speculation that Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, once tipped as Putin’s likely successor, will be replaced.
Neither Kadryov nor Prigozhin are seen as capable of mustering the support of Russia’s powerful security services or the wider elite to claim the top job. But they are a reminder of how much worse a future leader could be than Putin if the Kremlin lost control, resulting in a chaotic and brutal power struggle instead of a carefully manipulated succession in the country with the world’s largest nuclear arsenal.
Many Russian analysts doubt Putin will fall unless he faces further disasters such as mass casualties or economic hardship, leading to widespread social unrest.
“There are a lot of people who I think are fed up with the current situation. They think Putin is past his sell-by date,” said Mark Galeotti of the School of Slavonic and East European Studies at University College London. But for now, Russia’s pragmatic, kleptocratic elite sees that “the dangers of acting against Putin far outweigh the risks of keeping your head down and hoping things work out,” he said. said Galeotti.
“What we see is a regime that is still very strong and solid,” he said. “Putin is still in control of the security apparatus, and that’s probably the most important individual factor, but it’s fragile.”
Andrei Soldatov, an analyst and expert in Russia’s shadowy security services, said he was “skeptical of succession games. People are angry, of course, but that doesn’t mean they’re ready to act.
“It’s extremely unpredictable,” said Tatiana Stanovaya of consultancy R. Politik.
Putin’s regime is built on mutual benefit, patronage and complicity, with oligarchs and regional leaders allowed to plunder the state in exchange for their loyalty. If they step out of line, they can be ruined overnight.
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It is a repressive, highly adaptive regime with many tools to control the population. Putin surrounded himself with men yes (there are few women) who pose no threat.
“It’s much better for him to be around these courtiers who are all mediocre and all hate each other than to have a really great group of people who are the best of their kind and can act independently,” said Andrew S. Weiss of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The more people depend on him, the more powerful he thinks he is, but at times like this, that obviously makes the system completely dysfunctional.”
It is therefore difficult for anyone to try to suppress Putin. However, the risk to him could increase if the opportunistic and self-interested elite begin to view him as a threat to their wealth and power.
“If enough people would go to Putin and tell him it was time to leave and of course his property would be guaranteed and his personal immunity would be guaranteed, the goal would of course be to preserve the regime,” Anatol Lieven said. from the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a think tank. “But what if Putin refuses to go and obviously takes revenge?” Lieven said. “That’s the biggest hurdle.”
Some argue that a successor, likely blaming Putin for the war, should be a centrist acceptable to the elite, who could end the war and build bridges to the West. In this context, Sobyanin, the mayor of Moscow, often returns. A technocrat known for managing the coronavirus pandemic and rebuilding the capital for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, he quietly avoided waging war.
Another low-key prospect, Dmitry Kozak, 63, deputy Kremlin chief of staff, is a loyalist who worked with Putin in St. Petersburg in the 1990s. that Kyiv gave up its NATO aspirations at the time of the February 24 invasion, but Putin rejected it. The Kremlin has denied the deal, which was reported by Reuters last month.
Patrushev, the agriculture minister, who turns 45 next week, would represent a generational shift. “He could be prime minister one day and the next day he could be president,” said a person who was once close to Patrushev’s father and spoke on condition of anonymity to comment on sensitive issues. “He speaks several languages. He is young and he did not participate in the war.
A more likely Putin favorite could be his ex-bodyguard Alexei Dyumin, now governor of the Tula region. Dyumin led Russia’s special operations force, oversaw the capture of Crimea in 2014 and served as deputy defense minister.
Russian spies misinterpreted Ukraine and misled the Kremlin as war approached
Then there’s Medvedev, who served as Putin’s deputy president from 2008 to 2012. Once a tech-savvy liberal touring Silicon Valley, he’s now a stern nationalist, often threatening nuclear attack.
“I hate them,” Medvedev said in August. “They are bastards and degenerates. They want us, Russia, to die, and as long as I live I will do anything to make them disappear. He did not say whether “they” were Westerners, Ukrainians or both. Despite the rhetoric, critics deride him as more pathetic than scary.
Recent attacks on Russian military commanders by Kadyrov, Prigozhin and others may be indicative of a scramble for money and prestige rather than power. “All of these characters kind of hate each other and either fight or try to outwit each other to get more state loot,” Weiss said.
Kadyrov and Prigozhin are ambitious and cunning, each with forces of several thousand men fighting in Ukraine, and Putin needs them if he is to win the war. But analysts play down their chances. Kadyrov, who rules Chechnya like a fiefdom, would be unacceptable to the elite. “Prigozhin has no power base,” Galeotti said. He also dismissed Nikolai Patrushev as being too closely tied to Putin’s failures.
One name that never makes it to the list: Alexei Navalny, 46, the country’s most prominent opposition leader, who could win free elections but is in jail on trumped-up charges. Navalny is also an enemy of the elite, unlike Dmitry Patrushev.
“Parushev is part of the system,” said his father’s former associate. “If he says ‘our position is this and I have half of the Federation Council and the Duma behind me, let’s announce elections’, he is talking about a state position. Navalny only speaks as a street person.
The prospect of the Russian elite acting against Putin seems remote, but Russia has a history of disorderly regime change, such as in 1917 and 1991. “this is the time when revolution, I mean mass popular unrest , becomes truly possible.”
Catherine Belton in London contributed to this report.
War in Ukraine: what you need to know
The last: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday signed decrees to annex four occupied regions of Ukraine, following referendums held that have been widely denounced as illegal. Follow our live updates here.
The answer: The Biden administration on Friday announced a new round of sanctions against Russia, in response to the annexations, targeting government officials and their family members, Russian and Belarusian military officials and defense procurement networks. President Volodymyr Zelensky also said on Friday that Ukraine was seeking an “accelerated ascent” into NATO, in apparent response to annexations.
In Russia: Putin declared a military mobilization on September 21 to call up up to 300,000 reservists in a dramatic attempt to reverse the setbacks of his war on Ukraine. The announcement led to an exodus of over 180,000 people, mostly men who were subject to service, and further protests and other acts of defiance against the war.
The fight: Ukraine launched a successful counter-offensive that forced a large Russian retreat into the northeast Kharkiv region in early September as troops fled towns and villages they had occupied since the early days of the war and abandoned large quantities of military equipment.
Pictures: Washington Post photographers have been in the field since the start of the war. Here are some of their most powerful works.
How you can help: Here’s how those in the United States can support the people of Ukraine as well as what people around the world have donated.
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