To predict what the Kremlin will do, we need look no further than the ambitious but unrealized initiatives of the mid-2000s, such as enlarging the regions and tax reforms. The same is true of the Kremlin’s staffing policy: even if there are some reshuffles, the positions of power go to experienced and well-known individuals. Vladimir Putin is comfortable talking to familiar people on familiar subjects. His closest associates are well aware of this fact and have adjusted to their boss’s preferences.
The regional unification of record-high presidential election results has closed the Kremlin bureaucrats’ eyes to the diversity of different parts of the country, their elites, and the preferences of their electorates. In this model, regional masters of balance and public politics are extraneous. But the expulsion of old regional barons is risky: the banner of public pushback and local patriotism could be picked up by new regional politicians who might be even less convenient for Moscow.
Now in his fourth presidential term, Vladimir Putin faces a succession problem: the constitution prevents him from running again in 2024. With few simple transition options available, Putin may choose a compromise: to hand some presidential powers to the prime minister, increase the ruling party’s role, and introduce a second center of power in the executive branch.
The political and administrative dispersion of governance is under way in Russia: regulatory functions are being scattered among government and near-government players, which will inevitably result in the formation of first moderate and then increasingly pronounced polycentricity within the state. Initiative will eventually stop being punishable.
The new Russian government will cease to be a place for formulating strategies and implementing policies. Instead, it will focus on creatively calculating and reporting Russia’s accomplishments to technically meet the president’s expectations.
The United States’ latest round of sanctions has hit Russia hard. In the future, the Russian state will have to share the emerging risks and minimize socioeconomic consequences for the impacted regions and industries. This will lead to a new wave of property redistribution based upon state — not economic — interests.
The symbolic and real dimensions of Russian politics are in radical contradiction of each other.
The conflict that will dominate Putin’s fourth term is not between the doves and hawks, but between two economic schools: the industrialists, who believe the economy is made up of manufacturing machines, and the liberals, who are convinced that it consists of money. No technocrat will be able to form an efficient team from people who have fundamentally different ideas of what the economy actually is.
Putin’s goal is now neither to recreate the USSR, nor to become part of the West. Rather, the ambition is to build an economic and technological “West” inside Russia, while continuing an aggressive posture towards the West on the outside.
A consensus among the Kremlin’s supporters has become an ideology: Russia may have problems, but it is united by anti-Western, isolationist, and conservative values.