In the absence of a real political contest, Russia’s 2018 presidential election will be more or less a referendum on public confidence in Putin.
How can Vladimir Putin avoid the political fallout that will inevitably come from firing Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev? Facing corruption allegations and losing support within the government, Medvedev is quickly becoming a “suitcase without a handle” for Putin.
Russian authorities have nothing else to say because they have lost the ability to communicate either in real or in virtual time, and they have never learned the language of today’s reality. In this reality, not all dissent is political; some of it is a moral stance against dishonesty.
Having found itself in a lose-lose situation, the West will most probably do nothing—keeping sanctions in place and freezing the situation. The Kremlin will be happy. Russia won’t stop meddling in Ukraine or give up Crimea.
By co-opting the masses against the elite, the President Putin has shaped Russia to echo his values and grievances. And now he’s working to secure his legacy.
Revitalizing regional governance will only be possible if the Kremlin changes federal budget appropriations to benefit the provinces in addition to appointing ambitious young governors. Recent gubernatorial appointments should thus be seen as little more than a shrewd PR move by Deputy Chief of the Presidential Administration Sergey Kiriyenko and his team.
In political systems that block change through elections, the main guarantee of a regime’s stability is its capacity to absorb a potential counter-elite. At the moment, the regime is preventing any such renewal from occurring. Yet a counter-elite is in the process of formation nonetheless—one that can eventually take Russia in a new direction.
Instead of consolidating in the run-up to the 2018 presidential election, Russian elites have started making the structures they manage more autonomous. Uncertain about the future of the system, governors, directors of state-run enterprises, and heads of state bodies are carving out their own personal empires. Once centripetal, the Russian political system is now governed by centrifugal forces.
There are multiple indications that public support for the ruling regime in Russia is provisional and the country is entering a period of post-Putin transition. Neither the authorities nor the opposition is prepared for it.
Vladimir Putin’s annual address to the Federation Council typically lets him map out the country’s foreign and domestic policy course for the coming year. Yet Putin’s speech this time—one of his longest and strangest ever—was essentially an admission that he has little sense of what the events of the coming months will bring or how he plans to deal with them.