Life without Putin
A flock of "black swans" was on its way back home to Russia from Ukraine’s Donbas and Crimea exactly at the time of the anniversary of the latter’s annexation. The number of unpredictable events of crucial importance for Russia’s political system and its prospects exceeded the controlled limit. The Kremlin has failed to resist, this just like its chief, Vladimir Putin - the murder of Boris Nemtsov was the straw that broke the camel's back.
The mysterious disappearance of Vladimir Putin, which could result in his no less mysterious reappearance *, or in some other scenarios, is not only important in terms of the Russian president’s fate but also in terms of the social vibe around this event. Most Russians who genuinely adore their leader will do nothing to clarify the circumstances of Putin’s disappearance. If the scenario of an unplanned change of power in Russia is real, the masses will very swiftly express their loyalty to their “new leader,” quickly pushing everything that is associated with Vladimir Putin out of their memories and their hearts.
Therefore, to both Russia and Ukraine it’s not that important what happened to Putin. More important is what will happen after him, as this can happen at any moment.
The nature of the group that will be able to take over and hold the power in Russia after Putin would be a principal matter. It may be composed of reactionary “siloviki” [current and former representatives of Russia’s security forces, the military and law enforcement], ready to pursue with destroying Russia and the global order under the flags of the “Russian world”. It actually is the worst scenario with no predictable ending to it as it may even lead to a nuclear war. It may also be composed of state-oriented “siloviki” who will try to negotiate with the West on the acceptable terms for Russia to return to the international community without significant territorial losses. It is likely that such a group could be overseen by Yevgeny Primakov.
The new group in power may also be composed of the Putin's oligarchs, who, in fear of losing all their assets and influence, will resort to replacing Putin with some “liberal” figure, which could be accepted by the West (i.e. Dmitry Medvedev, Alexei Kudrin, German Gref, Anatoly Chubais, Dmitry Prokhorov or others). In this case, after the scrapping of Russian presence in the Donbas, the formal process will start of returning Crimea to Ukraine and the development of a new system of international security, as there is virtually no such system today.
Putin’s disappearance makes obvious one very important feature - Russian society feels that after all the mess caused in the past year, there will be a very high political price to pay. The level of anxiety among regular Russians and the country’s elite hit the record high as everyone is waiting for something to happen. And it really will happen. Chekhov's “rifle on the wall” is loaded, and it will surely go off, sooner or later.
A year ago, when Russia started the war with no rules, having no sufficient resources and no more or less multi-level strategy, it had already lost. Putin may be a good tactician but he is not much of a strategist. This means that Russia’s defeat was only a matter of time. And now it’s happening.
Russia’s new “after Putin” phase is starting. Even if Vladimir Putin soon reappears and surprises everyone with "bone-breaking handshakes” and vigorous energy, the public is already being accustomed to life after Putin. As it turned out, Russia is not just about Putin. Moreover, Putin and Russia can easily live without each other.
For Ukraine, it is crucial to understand the essence of the new Russian government, even if it is represented by already familiar figures. For example, if Russia’s current Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev were to be appointed the interim “throne holder” and if he started negotiations with the West on Russia’s new political course, then there are good chances of finding real points of interaction with the new Russian government on all issues.
If Putin is displaced by reactionary “siloviki” or other similar group, then it will be first required to wait for the final collapse of the Russian economy, accompanied by large-scale internal processes, escalation in the Caucasus and in other regions. It will all eventually come down to the change of power and the emergence of a leader ready for constructive talks with the West. And only after Russia’s reformatting can we consider any real negotiations on the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Donbas, the returning of Crimea, and compensation for all the material damage inflicted by Russia on Ukraine and its citizens.
In the meantime, with every hour, Russians are being taught to live without Putin.
It’s like the president is around, but he’s really not. There is anxiety within the elite, and there is hollowness in the society. Such environment can give birth to anything. It’s time to pay the debts and build a new future.
It’s just that without retribution and punishment for collective insanity this will not work for Russians. First, they will have to go through an inner purification and qualitative change. Only then will there be a chance for the new Russia. A Russia without Putin.
Roman Rukomeda is a political expert
* Russian President Vladimir Putin reappeared on Monday after an 11-day absence