Staunton, Nov. 18 – Even before Vladimir Putin exits the scene, the Russian leadership will be subject to significant generational change because many of his closest associates are the same age as he is and will with the passage of time leave office either through death or retirement in the coming years, Vladislav Inozemtsev says.
Focusing on the timing of Putin’s departure is both natural and inevitable, the Russian economist says, but managing this broader process is going to be critical not only for Putin’s last years but for the way in which Russia will be positioned to develop after he leaves the scene (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2021/11/18/rossiia-ne-velosiped-a-kvadrotsikl-mozhet-zastriat-no-ne-upadet).
Managing this process will be easier, Inozemtsev says, because the population is less inclined to protest than it was and consequently Putin and his core elite do not need to have the same fears that changes in the elite will echo in the population at large, possibly with unwelcome consequences for the Kremlin.
Over the last decade, both the Kremlin and the opposition have changed, he points out, with the former more ready to use repressive measures and the latter less willing to take active steps, in part because the situation in Russia is “not as catastrophic” as many imagine; and in part, because so many from the opposition have chosen to emigrate.
People in the Kremlin have no reason to be hysterical. Many things are going their way: they brilliantly used Navalny’s “smart voting” against the opposition at large by highlighting the fact that this proposal led to increased support for the most illiberal party, the KPRF, and thus “discredited the idea among many active liberals.”
“In the Presidential Administration, particularly in that part of it which is involved with domestic politics, officials are certain that given the current state of society what is important is not the process but the result, and this result is being achieved,” as far as the Kremlin is concerned, Inozemtsev continues.
But at the same time, those officials face a major problem. “Putin isn’t going anywhere, but there will be a very large generational change among his entourage.” And that means that the renewal of the elite “undoubtedly is needed,” given that many of the president’s closest advisors and supporters are aging just as he is.
Managing generational change in the executive branch and managing it among the systemic parties are no easy tasks as the new people will inevitably bring in new ideas and may have larger aspirations given that they have far longer time horizons than do those they will be replacing.
“Future stability,” the economist continues, requires “administered changes rather than an eternal ‘freezing of the situation.” And doing that, given that Putin has no intention of leaving office means that managing cadres changes among his immediate subordinates is becoming a critical task.
Those near the top of the power vertical “are preparing for a situation in which, with the loss of its leader, the system must nonetheless preserve its ability to act,” Inozemtsev argues. And thus, “the problem of the immediate future is the partial replacement of the old elite” with a new one.
The Putin system is thus entering “an important period.” Elites don’t want anything to threaten their holdings, and they welcome Putin’s argument that everything that has been achieved must be preserved. But that only means that there won’t be major policy changes while he is around. What happens next depends on who comes into the elites now.
Some think that this political freeze will lead to the collapse of the economy. But Inozemtsev says he doesn’t see any reasons for that. “Of course, the economy won’t be able to develop but it won’t simply collapse either.”