"Successor" plan rejected: why Russia opts for "Putin forever"
State Duma MP Valentina Tereshkova suggested not to "wise up" and not "to make up some artificial designs", but simply to remove from the Russian constitution restrictions on the number of presidential terms, and, thereby, to reset the counter of Vladimir Putin's cadences, leaving him in to post for life. The State Duma endorsed the proposal, while Putin didn't dispute it. Now the ball is on the pitch of Russia's Constitutional Court, while Russians are also supposed to have their say at a referendum.
Such a plan existed and was discussed long before the plunge of oil prices and signs of crisis in the Russian economy. Many experts have said such a scenario is likely. Therefore, it is now advisable to speak of the process acceleration and legitimization of this plan through a decision of the State Duma of the Russian Federation and submitting this initiative to the Constitutional Court, which, obviously, will endorse it before it is put to a referendum.
From the very start, Putin said he was against endless presidential terms and counter reset. But he has also said things will go the way people decide – he will "accept" the will of the people. That is, they will persuade him to stay and he will agree.
All this fits the philosophy (as evidenced by the coverage on Russian TV) of Putin being the only guarantor of Russia's stability and future amid the "perfect storm" in the world economy.
The "Successor" plan has been rejected and is no longer relevant
The Russian political machine is shaped in such a way that there's autocracy and sole emperor, and this emperor is Putin. And alternatives – even the idea that there may be another president besides Putin in the near future – are not considered at all. Therefore, the "Successor" plan has been rejected and is no longer relevant.
The Russian system went on to recreate Vladislav Surkov's concept of "Putin's long state" or "long Putinism" – Surkov has stepped down, while his concept lives on.
However, Putin's system does not consider the possibility of social unrest in Russia. After all, there is a punitive machine that is supported and funded by his Administration. Therefore, the bet is made on preventing any major disturbances that could be able to break the system. All opposition has been put into a certain framework, no independent influential media outlets are left in Russia, while provinces are tightly controlled by security forces. All potential protest elements are on check and under surveillance. That is why Putin is unlikely to be afraid of unrest or protests in Russia today.
However, there is really a problem of Putin's ratings falling, and there's also a quiet "armchair" protest where Russians can "vote with their feet", that is, not come to polling stations . Therefore, in order to eliminate any rumors and anxiety of bureaucrats, they decided to accelerate the scenario of the official establishment of autocracy in Russia. This won't allow various groups to "rock the boat" during the transit of power, because the transit itself will not be allowed as such.
Will today's Russia be different from Russia, where Putin will officially rule forever? Russia is constantly changing: Russias of 2000s, 2012, or 2020 are different countries. And Putin's regime is also changing at every stage: from Putin allowing another person to become president, while fully controlling the situation, and allowing at least elements of pluralism in the media, to the complete tightening of the grip and a massive purge. Putinism is increasingly becoming an authoritarian-totalitarian regime, with minimal elite competition remaining, and there's also an undeniable authority and an autocrat who is above all possible rival groups, being an undisputed arbiter in all showdowns. The final shaping of the "long Putinism" model is now underway.
Power for life will untie Putin's hands even further, while his government will further tighten its grip on citizens
Of course, power for life will untie Putin's hands even further, while his government will further tighten its grip on citizens. The question is, how strong this grip will remain and whether there are any week spots in it that will eventually come loose when the Kremlin is out of resources for shifting public focus from negative news and when the vertical realizes that the main constraint on their money flows is Putin himself. I don't rule out such a scenario either. And this is when a "palace revolution" or controlled revolutionary events will be possible. But before anything of this kind could happen, much more "black swans" should fly over Russia ...
Vitaliy Kulyk is a political expert, director of the Center for Civil Society Studies