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Vladimir Putin

Three ways Putin could stay in power after 2024 following his re-election as Russian president

Andrew Hammond says the Russian president has consolidated his power domestically with his re-election on Sunday but his relationship with the West remains more challenging

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 March, 2018, 4:34pm
UPDATED : Monday, 19 March, 2018, 6:28pm

Vladimir Putin’s re-election as Russian president on Sunday, which results show was with a much larger majority than his 63.6 per cent in 2012, comes as political attention is shifting forward to 2024. That date, when Putin will be constitutionally required to step down from power, could bring an end to what has been a remarkable period in Russian history that will have seen him as prime minister or president from 1999 to 2024.

Extraordinarily, this is a longer period at the top than all the Soviet Union’s supreme leaders, except Joseph Stalin. And this underlines the continuing breadth of Putin’s popularity in much of Russia despite the wide criticism he receives abroad – especially in Washington and London which recently imposed new sanctions on Moscow due to Russian interference in the 2016 US elections and the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal in southern England respectively.

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There are at least three key scenarios for the future of the country’s governance from 2024 onwards. These presume that Putin remains fit enough to stay in office for six more years when he would be 72 (around Donald Trump’s age today) and that he remains politically popular too.

The first and most optimistic scenario is that Putin will step back in 2024 and allow free and fair elections. However, this appears the least likely option at this stage, not least because any genuinely new administration might launch retrospective probes into his many years in power.

A second scenario is that Putin seeks to change the constitution which prohibits any one person being elected more than twice consecutively. While this may be his end game, it is by no means a foregone conclusion that he would be able to secure it, especially if his political luck runs out.

A third option is that he seeks to groom a trusted successor to hand over power to, under terms which could see Putin seeking continued influence. One variant of this was in 2008 when he served as prime minister to Dmitri Medvedev’s president for four years. There is speculation that Putin may seek to hold positions from 2024 onwards, ranging from prime minister again to speaker of the Duma. However, if Putin’s goal is to become president once more in 2030, he would by then be 78 years old and his personal health and political longevity could no longer be assumed.

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Indeed, there are already signs that his power is ebbing, such as turf wars and feuding at the top of the Russian elite. For instance, former economy minister Alexei Ulyukayev was sentenced to eight years in prison in December for allegedly soliciting a bribe from Igor Sechin, chief executive of the state oil company Rosneft and one of Putin’s close associates. Such elite disorder could grow in the coming years should the president’s political writ weaken.

Nevertheless, the fact that Putin could realistically remain in power after 2024 underlines his grip on power almost two decades after succeeding Boris Yeltsin. Putin has proved skilled in tapping into the post-cold-war national mood by forging a new sense of patriotism fuelled by a growing economy. This builds upon his mission of trying to restore Russia’s geopolitical prominence through international gambits like the annexation of Crimea and the Syria intervention.

Yet, while this has so far played well domestically, it has resulted in frostier relations with the West. A key question remains how the relationship will fare. Putin and Trump had hoped for a warming in relations. Yet events during the first 14 months of Trump’s presidency may have already destroyed the window of opportunity for this to happen.

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Here it is not only the fact that new US sanctions have made relations trickier, but also that the Trump team is under pressure over the investigations into alleged collusion with Moscow during the 2016 US presidential campaign. Moreover, there have been US-Russia tensions in the Middle East, including after US missile strikes targeting Syria last year following a poison gas attack by the Damascus regime. US defence secretary James Mattis and outgoing secretary of tate Rex Tillerson were forceful in their criticism of Moscow. The spike in US-Russia tensions even saw Medvedev saying the two countries were “one step away from war”.

Overall, with Putin’s new term of office, questions remain not just over the post-2024 Russian domestic landscape. The nearer-term future of Moscow’s ties with the US and the wider West remain in flux with Trump’s proposed repositioning of relations now looking as though it might be in the deep freeze.

Andrew Hammond is an associate at LSE IDEAS at the London School of Economics