Friday, February 22, 2019

Three Very Different Visions of Post-Putin Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 22 – Vladimir Putin’s failure to provide a picture of the future in his address to the Federal Assembly and growing indications that the power vertical on which he has relied is “decaying” (, ever more people are talking about what a post-Putin Russia might be like.

            Today, three Russian commentators, one in Moscow, one in the US, and one in Ukraine, provide extremely suggestive but in some ways mutually exclusive visions of what Russia will look like once the current Kremlin leader passes from the scene as will inevitably happen either voluntarily, by the force of circumstances, or as a result of death.

            In the first, economist Vladislav Inozemtsev  argues that Putin’s Russia like the Soviet Union before it has entered into a confrontation with the West and turned away from normal economic and political development mean that the Putin regime will pass away along with him, just as was the case with Stalin or Gorbachev (

            In the second, Irina Pavlova, a Russian historian based in the United States, fundamentally disagrees. She argues that the future will be much like the present and the past. And she suggests that that someone even more authoritarian and Stalinist, like Lavrenty Beria, may come after Putin departs (

            And in the third, Georgy Kasyanov, a Russian historian at the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, argues that the departure of Putin will be “a catastrophe” for Ukraine and other nearby countries because a leadership struggle within Russia would likely involve actions abroad to build authority (

            Given the number of unknowns, none of these three nor indeed anyone else can specify exactly what will happen; but all three of these and many other commentators as well capture some of the complexity of the situation, one in which after Putin both the leaders and the population will undoubtedly fashion a future but similar and different from today.

            Over the last 150 years, Russia has gone through numerous leadership, generational and political changes. Sometimes there has been a change at the top without changes in broader policies, but sometimes the change at the top has ushered in massive changes, some of which have proved sustainable and some not.

            That past is instructive – in this Pavlova is correct – but it has not always been a straightjacket – and in this both Inozemtsev and Kasyanov point to certain patterns that open the door to change.  As the end of the Putin era approaches – and while no one  knows when and how it will end – ever more people are going to weigh in on what it might be.

            Their suggestions not only will lead many to ask new questions but they will also form in some cases a roadmap however incomplete it will inevitably prove to be.   

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