Would Russia be a different country without Putin?

Vladimiras Putinas
Vladimir Putin AP/Scanpix

So said 45.7 percent of respondents in a poll published by DELFI. Political observer Marius Laurinavičius of the Eastern Europe Studies Centre says that, if Putin were replaced by someone else, things might get even worse.

According to Laurinavičius, the power structure in Moscow is not the one that could remain stable and survive succession. The power pyramid, he says, rests on the in-fighting among different power clans. This makes Putin himself an arbiter figure in such a system – with him gone, one of the clans might win power, but that would not necessarily mean liberal democracy for Russia.

“The most realistic outcome is that Putin would be replaced by someone even worse and much more dangerous. Someone like Alexander Dugin. Not Dugin himself, I use him just to indicate the type of person, because Dugin would not be able to replace Putin, it would have to be one from the politicians: Dmitry Rogozin, Sergey Shoigu or someone else,” says Laurinavičius.

Dugin has earned a reputation as the Kremlin’s political philosopher, notorious for his imperialist ideas. His dream is to build a Eurasian empire on the remains of the Soviet Union, so he calls for more confrontation with Western states, especially the US, while shoring up Russia’s influence in neighbouring countries.

During the Russian-Georgian war in 2008, Dugin urged the Kremlin not to stop and have the Russian army march all the way to Tbilisi, setting up a pro-Russian regime in Georgia. When the Russian army backed down, Dugin said it was a big mistake. During the Ukraine crisis, he was the one who called on Putin to enter the army in eastern Ukraine from the very start.

Lithuanians think nothing would change without Putin

According to the poll carried out by Spinter Tyrimai (Spinter Surveys), 31.1 percent of those polled said that Putin’s replacement would probably lead to friendlier relations with neighbours, including Lithuania.

14.5 percent of respondents were more pessimistic‚ they said things would change for the worse. Some 8.7 percent did not answer the question.

Most, however, 45.7 percent, said that – Putin or no Putin – Russia’s foreign policies would not change.

Among those hoping for better relations with Russia in case Putin is replaced were residents of 18-25 years of age and those living in urban centres.

The survey was performed on 16-26 July.

Best case scenario: Putin replaced by Putin II

Political observer Laurinavičius of the Eastern Europe Studies Centre thinks that if Putin suddenly disappeared, Russia’s policies in the Baltics would take a turn for the even worse.

He says the current political climate in Moscow is such that Putin’s replacement could most likely be someone similar to Dugin, who’s political convictions are fascist to say the least.

Among Moscow’s power clans, the one that comes closest to Dugin’s ideology is the one headed by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, according to Laurinavičius. If someone from this lot replaced Putin, the Baltic states could find themselves in an even more perilous situation.

Someone from the clan of Sergey Ivanov, the president’s chief of staff, or of Rostec SEO Sergey Chemezov would also spell disaster – these clans, too, are convinced that the Russian army should be on its way to Kiev. All the three clans have been most vocal advocates of military action in Ukraine.

“Currently, Russia is in such a situation that imagining change by replacing Putin is hard – at least not change to the more liberal or European side. It is Russia’s internal situation that prevents it from moving in that direction. It’s simply impossible,” Laurinavičius says.

He recalls a poll conducted in Russia after the Crimean annexation which showed that Putin’s popularity ratings shot up to staggering 86 percent. According to data by the Moscow-based Levada Centre, two-thirds of the Russian population support separatist fighters in east Ukraine. There is simply no space for a more liberal or pro-European sentiment.

Is there a chance that Russia could keep the status quo without Putin? Laurinavičius says such a scenario is possible, if there emerged a Putin II.

“Sure, it is possible and it would be the most acceptable compromise to all the clans. If there appeared a Putin II, he would help maintain the current balance of power and keep everyone more or less happy, albeit still at war with one another.

“The current Russian power structure is based on just such a balance of power – Putin is performing a perpetual balancing act amidst different groups. If he were succeeded by someone equally capable of this balancing act, the system would persist and make everyone more or less satisfied. But if changes brought a shift in the system, some clans could climb up against others – and then we might expect an even worse outcome than what we have now. As things stand now, hardliner clans have much bigger chance of coming to power, not the so-called liberals whom I don’t even like to call that,” Laurinavičius says.

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