Given its timing and Putin’s believed-to-be fraught relationship with incumbent US President Biden, reports of him stepping down as Russia’s President has given rise to speculation.
Even as the Americans prepare for a new Presidency, a UK tabloid is reporting that Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to resign amid growing health concerns. While Kremlin has rubbished the reports saying the Russian supremo is in “excellent health”, speculation is rife about who Putin’s possible successor could be.
A UK tabloid, The Sun, citing observers, reported on 6 Nov that President Putin was planning to quit early next year after showing possible symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. As expected, Moscow spokesman Dmitry Peskov has denied the UK reports insisting the Russian leader is in “excellent health.” Nonetheless, the news has given rise to speculation given its timing and his believed-to-be fraught relationship with incumbent US President Joe Biden. Putin is amongst the leaders who have not yet congratulated Biden on his victory.
Watch: Putin may quit as Russia’s president due to Parkinson’s disease
Significantly, the latest reports of Putin’s purported plans to retire also follow a proposed law in Russian legislature that could provide Russian ex-presidents legal immunity from criminal prosecution through their lifetime. Quoting a Moscow political scientist Professor Valery Solovei, The Sun added that Putin’s undisclosed partner Alina Kabaeva was urging him to quit – along with his two daughters Maria Vorontsova and Katerina Tikhonova. Solovei told the Sun: “There is a family, it has a great influence on him. He intends to make public his handover plans in January”.
Solovei’s remarks strengthened speculations about Putin’s Parkinson’s.
Experts claim that footage of Putin’s recent appearances show his fingers twitching when he held a pen, his legs appeared to be in constant motion and he looked to be in pain while clutching a chair’s armrest. Solovei also added that Putin would soon appoint a Prime Minister who would then be groomed to take over from the longtime president when he finally chooses to retire. According to Solovei, Putin could be retiring as early as January 2021.
How Putin foresees Russia’s future?
On January 15, this year, Putin announced a series of changes to the constitution ensuring that he stays in power well after the end of his term in 2024. He dismissed the cabinet of Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev and replaced him with a little-known tax official, Mikhail Mishustin. Russia’s most prominent opposition leader and Putin critic, Alexei Navalny, tweeted that Putin clearly signaled his desire to continue calling the shots even after his presidential term ends. AP quoted Navalny where he said: “The only goal of Putin and his regime is to stay in charge for life, having the entire country as his personal asset and seizing its riches for himself and his friends.” The January changes, according to analyst Alec Luhn writing for The Politico, were designed to make sure that, “while Putin may one day go, Putinism will stay.”
The 68-year-old leader, also a former KGB operative, is known for keeping his options open and his intentions secret until the very last moment. Guessing at who Putin will choose to elevate is fraught with uncertainty. However, it is believed that he will be looking for someone strong enough to keep tight control of the world’s biggest country, but loyal enough to ensure his security and that of his allies. According to sociologist Olga Kryshtanovskaya, who has been a keen observer of Russian polity “the selection of people is already defined … These people are now in key positions.”
68-year-old Putin, also a former KGB operative, is known for keeping his options open and his intentions secret until the very last moment.
So, Who could be Putin’s Successor?
On paper, the answer seems straightforward: Mikhail Mishustin would officially take interim control of the Russian government in the case of Putin’s death or incapacitation, for 90 days or until an election to replace him can be held.
Mishustin however, is seen a “”technocratic placeholder,” at best with no power base or ambition.
Watch: Who is Mikhail Mishustin?
Besides Mishutin, 61-year-old mayor Sergei Sobyanin, the former governor of the Tyumen province, has long been viewed as one of the most influential men in the country. Considered a politician of national standing, Sobyanin was head of Putin’s administration from 2005 to 2008, after which he followed Putin into the government, becoming a deputy prime minister. As a “first Putin technocrat” and a long time loyalist, Sobyanin is likely be high on Putin’s list. His rise would however leave the Russian leader with the problem of installing a new pro-Kremlin mayor in the increasingly restive capital.
A third possible candidate could be defense minister, Sergei Shoigu. He is perhaps the only political figure nearly as popular as Putin and one whom Russians have ranked as the country’s greatest military leader after World War II General Georgy Zhukov. The 64-year-old, Shoigu who started with humble beginnings rose to prominence after the collapse of the USSR and his popularity grew during 1994 to 2012 owing to skilled handling of natural disasters. He is known to be close to Putin and regularly spends summer vacations with the president in Tuva. According to Luhn, “ironically, Shoigu’s popularity, influence and power could work against him, as there is little to guarantee his continued loyalty to Putin.”
Shoigu is known to be close to Putin and regularly spends summer vacations with the president in Tuva.
Besides the politicos, some bureaucrats and even some of Putin’s bodyguards are seen as potential successors. In any case, if the succession battle develops–Putin is likely to keep his cards close to his chest.