Most Russians believe the era of President Vladimir Putin will end one day, either through Putin’s death (if he is, in fact, mortal) or political change.
This has led many to speculate about what their country will look like after Putin’s eventual demise.
In Monday’s New York Times, Russia’s former Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev published an op-ed entitled “Russia’s Coming Regime Change.” Kozyrev speculates that Putin’s contradictory messages of Russian aggression and victimhood both point to a fundamental weakness in Putin’s regime — one which the U.S. could choose to exploit.
The sentiment is present in Putin’s own inner circle too. Putin’s economic confidant Aleksei Kudrin recently suggested that Russia could hold early elections, as Kozyrev writes, “to provide a mandate for much-needed economic reforms.” Amid Western sanctions on Russia in retaliation for the invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s financial system is genuinely struggling. (RELATED: Russian Economic Crisis Disrupts Daily Life)
Kozyrev says Western pressure on Putin must continue — not because regime change should be a “policy goal,” but to prove the West is “ready to help” the Russian people when they finally grow tired of Putin’s authoritarian rule.
The pages of The New York Times are not the only place where Russians have begun this debate. Last week, the independent Russian political magazine Slon.ru published an interview with political analysts Stanislav Belkovsky and Gleb Pavlovsky, under the headline “Russia After Putin.”
Pavlovsky compares Putin’s cult of personality to politics in the Soviet Union. Under Communism, he says, the “official doctrine” about the future always involved some future manifestation of Communism. But under Putin, “there is no future of any kind in the system.” Instead, life under Putin resembles a perpetually stopped clock. (RELATED: Muslim Polygamy Is Russia’s Hottest Political Debate)
Belkovsky agrees, saying that since he is a political tactician rather than a strategist, Putin is unable to think as far ahead as 2018, when the next presidential election is scheduled.
Despite their cynicism, Pavlovsky and Belkovsky both suggest advice for Russia’s opposition. They complain that alternatives to Putin, such as the charismatic politician Alexei Navalny, are often presented merely as “young and handsome” Putin clones. Instead of just pushing specific reforms, they say, forward-looking Russians — even those who benefit financially from the current system — should reimagine Russia’s concept of political power.
The thinkers’ debate remains mostly abstract. But the fact that such high-profile Russians openly debate the prospect of a post-Putin Russia is a small sign of hope in an increasingly narrow political landscape.
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