Who will replace Vladimir Putin? If the Russian president steps down in January, here's who could succeed him
Ever since news of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s probable exit from the top office in January broke, the world has been left guessing to know who is next? The 68-year-old strongman, a former KGB operative, is rumored to be suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Reportedly, his family has been advising him to step down.
While Putin’s aides have rubbished rumors about him preparing for an exit, speculation over his possible resignation has become stronger as Russian politicians are considering legislation proposed by the president himself, which would give former presidents lifetime immunity from any kind of criminal proceedings.
Russia’s political circles have been witnessing some drama over Putin’s rule. In January this year, Putin announced constitutional changes that suggested that he will have to pick someone to replace him when his current presidential term ends in 2024. However, in March, Russia’s constitutional court approved constitutional amendments that could enable the leader to continue in power for another 16 years. The move met some public protests but Putin prevailed as the final results of the referendum on the constitutional changes showed a landslide victory for him.
But Putin’s health concerns have now brought a sudden change in the script and the question ‘after Putin, who?’ has resurfaced. At a time when the world is closely watching the outcome of the presidential election in the US, the news over Putin has made the curiosity over a possible international order emerging in the new decade intense.
While Putin himself might go, his legacy will not vanish too soon. The man could take up the position of the chairman of the state council to exert a considerable influence on the directions of Russia’s internal and external affairs. And in that situation, it is most likely to see the man picking a loyalist to run the show. It will not be too easy a way to chart because historically, the leaders of the USSR/Russia have reversed the ideological stand of their predecessors. While Nikita Khrushchev changed the cult of Joseph Stalin, Boris Yeltsin undid the legacy of Mikhail Gorbachev and Putin himself moved away from Yeltsin’s pro-West stance.
According to sociologist Olga Kryshtanovskaya, the names who could replace Putin have already been defined and they are currently serving in important positions, a POLITICO report said in January. And if Russian political scientist Stanislav Belkovsky is to be believed, a struggle for the post-Putin presidential office is already underway in Russia.
Some names that could be seen making the rounds more in case Putin really steps down in early January are
The 54-year-old Mikhail Mishustin was appointed as the prime minister in January and the surprising move brought the former director of Russia’s Federal Taxation Service into the discussion of being Putin’s likely successor. Mishtusin, who is credited for digitizing Russia’s tax system, is a key personality in Russia’s hockey structure, which is a significant networking tool for the country’s rich and powerful. The man came close to Putin while playing with the latter in the Night Hockey League of prominent people. The man is a key link between Russia’s security agencies and the bureaucrats since the tax agency is associated with paperwork and carrying out of regulations, analyst Alexander Baunov told POLITICO. Mishthusin resembles Putin himself and that makes him a strong contender for the top post even if his political career has not started too long ago.
The fact that a number of members of the government that Putin appointed earlier this year have connections with Sergei Sobyanin, the mayor of Moscow who has been serving since October 2010. The 62-year-old, who is a former governor of Tyumen province and deputy prime minister, is one of Russia’s most influential men. The man is considered more than just a mayor and a politician of national stature. He was the head of Putin’s administration between 2005 and 2008 before becoming a deputy premier. Sobyanin has played a key role in transforming Moscow into a modern city and earned a reputation as an effective mayor. The man is popular even in places other than the Russian capital and that gives a fair idea that he has the potential of gaining stature as a national leader. This long-time Putin loyalist, who has handled protests in Moscow well, could also be in the fray.
Sergei Shoygu is Putin’s defense minister -- a popular one who the Russians consider as the country’s greatest military leader after Georgy Zhukov of the Second World War. The 65-year-old Shoygu made a moderate start as a construction engineer in the Tuva region to become a functionary of the Communist Party and the deputy head of the national construction committee. After the USSR collapsed, Shoygu played a key role in keeping various rebellious regions near Moscow in times of conflict. The man became popular with his effective handling of emergency situations as the Emergencies Minister between 1994 and 2012 and after serving as the governor of Moscow briefly, took over the defense ministry in 2012. Close to Putin, the man oversees the modernization of Russia’s vast military. Shoygu is known to be close to Putin but only three younger than the president, the man could be less reliable in maintaining his loyalty to the latter, feels Tatyana Stanovaya, an analyst with R.Politik and Carnegie Center Moscow.
A Kremlin functionary, Andrei Belousov, is also considered among the possible successor of Putin, especially after he got picked as the first deputy prime minister in January. Former president Dmitry Medvedev was also picked for the top post from the same position and that adds to the speculation over the 60-year-old Belousov. An economist, Belousov was appointed as Putin’s economic aide in 2013 and became the chairman of the board of Rosneft, the state oil company. Belousov, who also served as the minister of economic development in 2012-13 and an acting prime minister in April-May this year, is reportedly known to harbor a Putin-like worldview -- Russia is surrounded by a “ring of enemies”.
Thirty-eight-year-old Maxim Oreshkin, who is serving as Russia’s minister of economic development since 2016, said last year that he would like to be the next Russian president. The economist-politician said in a meeting at the Academy of Journalists in the Russian capital: “The job of president would definitely be interesting to any manager from the point of view of essence and content.” The Irish Times reported.
“I still have lots to do in my current post so I’m only discussing this in the abstract,” Oreshkin, a former banker, added. The young politician is one the technocrats that Putin has been backing to government posts. He is not one who belongs to the Kremlin’s inner circle but that fact that he is a favorite of the strongman doesn’t rule him out of the race.
The only leader who has succeeded in reaching Russia’s top post in the Putin era which last lasted two decades is Dmitry Medvedev. The 55-year-old served as the president of Russia between 2008 and 2012 and was the prime minister till January this year when he resigned in the wake of Putin’s efforts towards making a sweeping reshuffle of the leadership.
Medvedev’s name once floated right up in front whenever there were talks about Putin’s frontline aides but it is no more the case. His standing with the leadership has been found to be sinking, especially the charges of personal corruption that have hurt his image, making Putin eventually replace him with Mishustin. Though Medvedev has denied the allegations of corruption, they have yet left deep damage on his image, especially when Western sanctions imposed on Russia in the wake of the Crimea crisis of 2014 have hit the lives of ordinary Russians. It is likely that the once blue-eyed-boy of Putin will be able to turn the tables in his favor once again.
Deputy Kremlin Chief of Staff and former deputy prime minister Dmitry Kozak, 62, and Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin, 54, are also other leaders who have been making a lot of noise and could also be in the run for the top post. Besides, 49-year-old Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky, an ultraconservative, and Igor Krasnov who replaced Putin ally Yuri Chaika as the prosecutor general this January are also other names being widely talked about.