20 years under Putin: a timeline

In this week’s roundup, Andrei Kolesnikov argues why Putin’s reelection won’t change much in Russia; Alexander Morozov describes the main problems for Putin's electoral performance; Tatyana Stanovaya outlines five rules of survival for the state oligarchs; New Times surveys political scientists on their expectations of Putin's fourth term; and Andrei Movchan analyzes Alexei Navalny’s presidential platform.


On December 14, Vladimir Putin held his annual press conference in Moscow. Nothing new was said. Photo: Mikhail Klimentyev / TASS.


  1. Carnegie.ru: Intrigue-2024. Will Putin Revolt Against the Putin System?

  • Andrei Kolesnikov of the Moscow Carnegie Center argues why Putin’s reelection won’t change much in Russia.
  • To maintain the status quo, Putin is forming his 2018 team based on loyalty and technocracy to prevent regime collapse from the rot of corruption and inefficiency. This is the same task that the Soviet bureaucracy faced in its last years. In the end, despite bureaucratic efforts, the Soviet system wasn’t effective enough and failed anyways.
  • Putin’s behavior and decisions continue to send symbolic messages about his standing on a number of issues. For example, the shuffling of governors this fall showed that the wrong type of behavior can lead to resignation, arrest, or criminal charges. When his position is unclear, sometimes a definitive action is necessary, like the arrest of Alexei Navalny in October or the recent intimidation of Open Russia.
  • Another key aspect of the Putin system is his monopoly on the opposition. Imitative opposition parties continue to function, but their leaders are aging, while United Russia is not even a party, but rather a driving force that mobilizes Putin’s supporters.
  • When it comes to their most successful opponent, Navalny, the authorities carry out various acts of intimidation, but do not persecute him too harshly, so as not to tarnish their image. But while Navalny’s presence is a permanent election campaign, his “illegal” political status prevents attracting otherwise potential supporters. He also remains incapable of uniting the opposition, which is too narcissistic.
  • With Putin’s populist model reaching maturity, what will happen during the fourth term? It is unlikely Putin will retire early, or that he will modernize the country—his own system would reject the changes. Rather, Putin will rely on inertia, and his swansong term will more or less be a slightly deteriorated remake of the 2012-2018 period.
  • Going on autopilot should not be confused with democratization, cautions Kolesnikov. It is more like a Russian variant of Francoism—the only difference is that Putin lacks a successor (though Kolesnikov posits Alexei Kudrin or Igor Sechin as potential candidates).
  • Mikhail Khodorkovsky recently said that the future of the Russian political system raises the question of what—not who—will replace Putin, but Kolesnikov argues that the “what” is always “who,” given that power in Russia is always personified.
  • As Kolesnikov concludes, what the next political cycle will present—be it endless repetition or a sudden break—is the subject of discussion for after the 2018 election.

Carnegie.ru, Интрига-2024. Восстанет ли Путин против путинской системы, Андрей Колесников, 14 декабря 2017 г.


  1. RBC: The Electoral Calendar: What Can Influence Vladimir Putin's Campaign

  • Political scientist Alexander Morozov describes the main problems for Putin's electoral performance: too many pro-Putin votes, low turnout in big cities, and negative foreign perceptions of Russia.
  • Putin’s campaign’s target is for Putin to win 70 percent of the vote with 70 percent turnout. The lack of alternative to Putin creates an electoral outcome in which all of the other candidates aggregate less than 15 percent of the vote, and everything else goes to Putin.
  • According to Morozov, winning an overwhelming majority could be an issue. Low turnout in big cities is not new, but remains problematic. Still, Putin's team doesn't seem to be planning any schemes to increase turnout, save for the usual mobilization of state employees, military and staff of state corporations.  
  • Another problem is the growing negative image of Russia abroad—a departure from the more trustworthy relationship with the West before Crimea’s annexation—coupled with Navalny's unprecedented campaign against Putin.
  • The run-up to the vote includes a number of important events: the centennial of the Cheka/KGB and Putin's expansion of the FSB, the official refusal to register Navalny, Putin's speech to the Federal Assembly, the 2018 Winter Olympics, the U.S. Treasury’s report on the new sanctions, and the annual Nemtsov march.
  • Russia's opposition to the West provides some fodder for Putin, but his campaign lacks a central theme—a number of governmental forums have recently discussed “an image for the future,” but Putin's Kremlin has not enacted any big changes in the past two years, and only discussed digitalization and judicial reform.
  • This election is particular, however, for a few reasons:
    • Younger politicians did not replace older ones in the “opposition” parties;
    • Unlike the 2008 campaign ("modernization") and the 2012 campaign ("enhancing sovereignty"), the 2018 campaign lacks a strategic idea for the next term;
    • Societal opposition has grown more pessimistic and is less inclined to take risks given the crackdown on the Bolotnaya protesters; the widening of the definition of “extremism”; suppression of the truckers’ protest in Putin’s third term, etc.

РБК, Избирательный календарь: что может повлиять на кампанию Владимира Путина, Александр Морозов, 8 декабря 2017 г.


  1. Republic: Friends in the New Term: What Awaits Putin’s Associates after 2018?

  • Putin's third term didn't end well for everyone and his fourth doesn't promise to be any simpler: the rules of the game are gradually changing and competition for resources among the elites is growing. Tatyana Stanovaya of the Center of Political Technologies outlines five rules of survival for the state oligarchs.
  • Rule #1: Thou shalt not steal. Putin’s reaction to corruption is well known. In the fourth term, the relationship of Putin to his associates will be the following: the more political responsibilities you shoulder, and the more you suffer from foreign pressure, the more forgiveness can be earned in the eyes of the leader.
  • Rule #2: Expand, but be wary. Rosneft is a prime example that state assets are becoming far more difficult to seize than private ones. The oligarchy sprouting from Putin’s tenure will start to become interested in the property accumulated in the 1990s by former Yeltsin oligarchs. Putin will sanction these actions to avoid too much conflict and prevent too much reliance on state assistance.
  • Rule #3: National interests are more important than your company’s interests. Oligarchs like Vladimir Yakunin and Igor Sechin gobbled up resources and benefits until they ran into direct criticism from the president. Posing corporate interests as national interests will become increasingly difficult in Putin’s fourth term, especially given the fight between the government and state corporations for dividends.
  • Rule #4: Deal with it on your own. Today we see a landscape in which Sechin is at loggerheads with Alexei Ulyukayev, Yevgeny Yevtushenkov, Nikolai Tokarev, Ramzan Kadyrov; Kadyrov with the FSB; the FSB with the Russian Guard; and the Russian Guard with the Ministry of Internal Affairs. But in his third term, Putin distanced himself from interclan showdowns and conflicts, and directed more attention to geopolitics. Putin will continue to surround himself with technocrats, the military, and security to raise a new pro-Putin generation. The older associates will face more rigid competition and depoliticization.
  • Rule #5: Be patriotic. As Putin’s system continues to self-identify with anti-Westernism and anti-Americanism, the president will demand the same from his associates. Today, there is no reason to believe that Putin’s fourth term will see a decrease in tension between Russia and the West—in fact, the Ukraine conflict and the current relationship with the West and Europe say the opposite. Putin’s fourth term will need patriots more than businessmen, and a team that implements national priorities, not self-development.
  • Stanovaya concludes that all said, Putin’s fourth term will create a politically empty technocratic “power vertical.”

Republic, Друзья на новый срок,Татьяна Становая, 11 декабря 2017 г.


  1. New Times: Putin 4.0: Reforms or Stagnation?

  • Journalist Elena Teslova surveys political scientists on new developments in Putin's fourth term and asks whether modernization, rapprochement with the West, or government reforms are to be expected.
  • According to the majority of respondents, it’s no coincidence that in the past few months talk of reforms or modernization has been practically absent, and there is no reason to believe that any such changes might be implemented in the next presidential term.
  • Putin wants to maintain the support of the majority, and this majority is conservative; he cannot initiate any changes, says Konstantin Kalachev of the Political expert group.
  • If there are transformations of any kind, the consensus is that they will be socioeconomic. Dmitry Orlov of the Agency of Political and Economic Communications suggests that after the elections a package of structural reforms will be enacted to strengthen the economic and social sector. But any institutional changes will depend on whether Putin wants to prioritize rejuvenating the economy or securing his authority—likely, it will be a symbiosis of the two.
  • One big question is whether Putin will hold on to Dmitry Medvedev. Some sources close to the Kremlin say the position has already been promised to the current prime minister who hasn’t done anything egregious while in power, but will further sap the already low levels of enthusiasm in Putin’s campaign if he remains in place, contributing to a real feeling of stagnation among society.
  • The experts think it unlikely that Putin will decide to run the government himself—that is, without a prime minister—as this would require constitutional reforms, which Putin has always appeared reluctant to meddle in.
  • If there are any changes, they will be in foreign policy—the experts expect that Putin will try to mitigate Russia’s relationship with Europe and the U.S. in the near future.
  • Russia has already begun to move away from the hard line it cast in 2014, a shift seen this week in Putin’s response to Russia’s ban from the Olympics. Putin also announced the end of Russia’s mission in Syria, leading up to which Russia initiated new negotiations on the postwar regulation of the Middle East.
  • Only Orlov was optimistic about the development of Russia—the majority of his colleagues don’t doubt that the next six years will deepen stagnation in the country. Though Putin acknowledges the importance of economic growth and development, it requires institutional changes and their associated risks, which he isn’t ready for.
  • Overall, the experts conclude that restructuring will only occur after Putin leaves office, when the country and its government reaches the point of no return and recognizes that it cannot continue to operate the way it has been for 24 years.

New Times, Путин 4.0: Реформы или застой? Елена Теслова, 11 декабря 2017 г.


  1. Vedomosti: Navalny’s Program for Mythical People

  • Economist Andrei Movchan analyzes Alexei Navalny’s presidential platform, released this week ahead of Putin’s press conference and the publication of the president’s own program.
  • Movchan provides the caveat that first impressions are likely to be deceptive. However, his initial reaction was that the lengthy document neither explains how Navalny will implement his plans, nor what results are to be expected. The economist was also struck by the difference between the economic and non-economic sections.
  • While the non-economic goals were respectable (expansion of self-government, federalization, reduction of presidential powers, parliamentary and judicial reform, changes to the Criminal Code, reform of the Federal Penitentiary Service, reforms in the regulation of the media), they suffered from a lack of explanation on how they will be implemented. Because these goals are risky, they need a robust program to support them, unless they are only meant to be campaign slogans.
  • Most of the proposed economic measures raise serious doubts in terms of feasibility and usefulness, reminiscent of leftist populist slogans à la Russia’s Communist Party. (For example, the document states that state property will be allocated to the Pension Fund, and in another section, that state property will be sold.)
  • The platform outlines that a Navalny presidency would fight corruption by increasing transparency and the responsibility of officials, but it remains unclear how this will work. Many experts say a reduction in the role of the state is more important, which Navalny theoretically supports, but his platform mentions both the multiplication of the state and the state’s withdrawal from the economy.
  • There are also numerical inconsistencies and miscalculations. When calculating the remuneration of the proposed contract army, taxes are forgotten. The document misreports the percentage of Russian GDP spent on healthcare compared to OECD countries.
  • As Movchan writes, Navalny’s supporters will say that the report’s shortcomings, curtsies to socialists, and economic mistakes can be reworked and corrected if their leader can just make it to the presidency and secure support in parliament, which they believe is in the interest of the masses.
  • However, what irks Movchan the most is that the platform consistently attacks different sections of the population in favor of a mythical “people.” Churchill promised his people “blood, sweat and tears,” but did so honestly and openly, and took full responsibility, without using his platform to expose half of the country as swindlers and halfwits or manipulating poorly understood concepts. In contrast to Churchill, the author concludes that it will be difficult to find a voter in support of Navalny’s program.

Ведомости, Программа Навального для мифического народа, Андрей Мовчан, 13 декабря 2017 г.