Putin’s downfall: Here are 3 possible outcomes for the Russian regime
Russia is facing a governmental crisis that could radically alter the shape and structure of the country in the coming years.
According to Nikolay Petrov, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin could fail within the coming year.
And this failure will have profound consequences for all of Russia, leading to at the very worst regime change and a proliferation of new institutions and states throughout the Russian Federation.
Petrov, formerly chair of the Carnegie Moscow Center’s Society and Regions Program, believes that Russia’s current trajectory of military adventurism, the complete sidelining of political-opposition movements, the collapsing Russian economy, and the complete centralization of power with Putin could lead to only three outcomes.
1. Putin manages to mend relations with the West and improve the economy
In the best-case scenario, Putin manages to mend relations with the West over his role in the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine. Additionally, Putin could appoint a selected and apparently liberal politician to a high-rank to show the West that he is serious about reforms.
Such a move, according to Petrov, “would send a positive signal to the West. At the same time, it would go some way towards restoring the balance between liberals and siloviki [current or former members of the security establishment] in the government.”
By at least playing lip service to reform while drawing down the country’s military commitments overseas, Petrov believes that Putin would then be able to tone down its anti-Western rhetoric while declaring “that it has won the power struggle with the West and restored Russia’s greatness on the international stage, and can now re-engage in cooperation from a position of strength.”
Should this situation play out, it will only delay Russia’s current problems.
It will still not address the underlying failure of Russia to deliver substantial economic or political reforms in the past.
Nor would such a shift manage to address the political imbalance that has resulted from the complete centralization of power under Putin.
Instead, this scenario would save the Russian regime from immediate failure, but it is just the first step in a number of critical reforms that Moscow would have to undertake.
2. Putin is replaced
In the second scenario, Putin is replaced by a younger heir. This would attempt to fix the massive political imbalance in Russia by almost certainly reducing the power of the Russian presidency while elevating the power of existing Russian institutions.
But Petrov notes that replacing Putin would still carry multitudinous difficulties as “the foundations of the system need to be rebuilt.”
“The relatively orderly transition of power that followed the death of Josef Stalin — for example — could not be repeated, due to the lack of an institution such as the Communist Party to hold the country together,” Petrov writes. “Rather, Putin’s inner circle would lose its position of power with his departure.”
Still, the replacement of Putin would only buy Russia time.
A new leader would still have to deal with many of the same problems that Putin today faces: a factionalized political elite that is willing to turn on each other for profit, a lack of transparent and effective state institutions, and the continuation of politics favoring individuals over ideas and what was best for the state.
3. Russia faces regime change
Such dissatisfaction with the government and the collapse of central authority could lead Russia into becoming, in Petrov’s words, a “federation of corporations.”
In this case, the various power centers in Russia — such as oligarch-headed companies, governmental agencies, and regional powers such as Chechnya — could all vie to become their own power centers.
In such a case, the Russian Federation would become a nation of competing powers with local bases of control competing for central authority.