What could happen if Putin dies?

Despite the fact that the Russian Constitution clearly defines the succession of the president, several scenarios seem plausible to predict the post-Putin period.

Vladimir Putin, June 10, 2022 in Moscow @BelgaImage

For months, Vladimir Putin’s health has been attracting attention. Back in early June, Newsweek published unpublished information about his alleged cancer, which again sparked a debate about the reliability of such claims. Also according to the magazine, a secret report of the US intelligence services states that the Russian president was assassinated. In late May, the head of the Ukrainian special services, Kirill Budanov, had already stated that Vladimir Putin had been the target of such an attack in the Caucasus. One way or another, one thing is for sure: Vladimir Putin is still alive. But what if he died? Even in the West, officials want this scenario to come true, like Luxembourg’s foreign minister, who said on Radio 100.7 in early March that “this seems to be the only solution“Stop the war in Ukraine. But is it true that Putin’s death will resolve the conflict? A priori, this is far from certain.

Very fragile prime minister

If the president of Russia dies, Article 92 of the Russian Constitution is clear. It does not matter whether he dies, resigns or his health prevents him from performing his functions – it is the Prime Minister (ie the Prime Minister) who temporarily takes control. From January 2020, this man became Mikhail Mishustin, and therefore, he will be the head of state. He will then be responsible for organizing the new presidential election no later than three months later. At the same time, he would not have the right to dissolve the Duma (the lower house of the Russian parliament), call a referendum or change the Constitution.

Unknown to the general public in the West, Mishustin, however, is in a very fragile position. In fact, he is not a politician, military or special services. From 2010 to 2020, he simply headed the Federal Tax Service. Therefore, he does not have a strong political base, and his aura is very limited. He is not even sure that he has much weight in the balance of power, including the invasion of Ukraine. In fact, if he is in office, it is probably Putin’s way of taking over state business.

Compared to Mishustin, other personalities also occupy a much stronger position than him. If the Kremlin leader disappears, it is possible that sooner or later, even before the election, someone else will win. Asked about his succession in October 2021, Vladimir Putin even made contact. “I prefer not to answer such questions“- said the one who could theoretically remain in power until 2036 after the recent constitutional change.

Hawk nationalist

However, there is speculation about the name of his dolphin. Mykola Patrushev, a very old supporter, appears most often. Like him, he worked for the KGB during the Soviet era. He then served as head of the new FSB intelligence service from 1999 (when Putin became head of state) until 2008. Since then, he has been secretary of the Security Council, a body that directly advises the president on national security issues.

Patrushev may not be in government (if only because of his son, the Minister of Agriculture since 2018), his position in the Russian regime is central. Putin really attaches great importance to his support in the army and special services. He is known for his fierce nationalism and experience in espionage. Already in 2014, according to the New York Times, he was among the instigators of the annexation of Crimea. Today, he still maintains a tough stance on the war against Kyiv, not hesitating to resort to conspiracy theories.denazify“Ukraine.

Asked by the BBC, Ben Noble, a professor of Russian politics at London University College, sees it as “the most fiery hawk“revolves around Putin”,thinking that the West has been trying to seize Russia for yearsThus, Patrushev’s coming to power would a priori be far from easing the war in Ukraine, as well as tensions with the West. But for Odd Merlin, a ULB professor and Russian specialist, there is so much secrecy behind the scenes of the Kremlin that it is difficult to know whether Patrushev will win in the event of Vladimir Putin’s death. “We have no idea. What is happening is very opaque“She told La Libre.

Many personalities

I must say that Patrushev is not Putin’s only close friend. Among the most prominent in the West are former Russian Prime Minister and President Dmitry Medvedev and Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations from 1994 to 2004, who has since become foreign minister. The latter is the most stable member of the Russian government, with the exception of Sergei Shoigu. He was Minister of Emergency Situations from 1994 to 2012, before receiving the post of Minister of Defense, which he still holds. He is also one of Vladimir Putin’s most influential voices. Although he had no military training, he instilled Kremlin ideology in the army.

Outside the government circle, we find, in particular, Oleksandr Bortnikov, the former KGB. Since 2008, he has been the director of the FSB, thus Patrushev’s direct successor. There is also Viktor Zolotov, director of the Russian National Guard since 2016. Finally, there is one of the few women who weighs in the Russian state apparatus, a staunch supporter of “denazification” of Ukraine. Her name is Valentina Matvienko, chairman of the Federation Council since 2011, ie the upper house of the Russian parliament.

If one of these personalities took Putin’s place, the war in Ukraine could not subside, on the contrary. This uncertainty, however, suggests that the Russian regime is centered around Vladimir Putin. In 2020, an unnamed official said in an interview with Business Insider that the president simply could not escape. “Do you see how many mafia bosses decide after decades of robberies and murders to quietly retire to a beach house with all their money?“He said, making other similar comparisons with other great dictators of the state. Judging a Western intelligence official. According to the latter, that is why the president should juggle between different political and economic factions to maintain control over subjugation strikes and threats.Throw a bullet and you’re dead or in jail. It may be tempting to ask someone to help you juggle, but who can you really trust?he asked.

Democratic Russia?

That is why Russia seems to have fallen into the trap of its autocratic regime. However, others are hoping for a completely different scenario for the future. This is the case of Mikhail Kasyanov, Russia’s prime minister from 2000 to 2004, at the beginning of the Putin era, who has since joined the liberal opposition parties. Recently exiled from the Ukrainian context (without specifying the place of his asylum), he admitted to AFP that he no longer recognizes Putin at the political level, as the current Russian regime has adopted the system.reminds the KGB, hoping for complete impunity“.

Nevertheless, he does not lose hope for Russia’s democratic future. He believes it will take decades of hard work. “to decommunize“and”deputinize“the country, as well as restoring confidence with the West. But he assures: if the Putin regime falls,”after the tragedy we are witnessing, the opposition will unite. I have no doubt about that“.”Everything will have to be rebuilt from scratch. We will have to start a cycle of economic and social reforms. These are huge and difficult challenges, but they will need to be addressed“, – he concludes.

It is necessary that the Russian population adhere to the same opinion. With his propaganda machine, Vladimir Putin looks extremely popular. According to the independent Russian research body Levada Center, its approval rating is 83%. Is this figure representative, or is it distorted by a repressive regime that does not allow dissonant voices, especially with regard to Ukraine? It is impossible to know for sure. There is no doubt that public opinion will play a role, regardless of whether Putin stays in power, appoints a successor or dies. We will also have to see if the opposition can come up with a strong enough, convincing and viable alternative to impose itself, while Russian democracy still needs to be built.

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