What does Putin want?
Recently, Russian leader Vladimir Putin held the end-of-year press conference where 2 thousand journalists from around the world tried to understand the future political plans of the Kremlin's holder. This event has become a tradition whereby Putin demonstrates that the liberal elite’s policy of isolating Russia has failed. The logic is that it is impossible to ignore the interests of the largest country. Therefore, the efforts of top news agencies to understand its next steps are clear evidence of this. There were questions on completely different topics: from Putin’s personal life to predictions of a possible nuclear war. However, many guests stubbornly sought an answer to the question of whether he intends to remain in his position after 2024.
According to the Constitution, the President of Russia could not be elected for more than two terms for four years each in a row. The first 8 years of Putin’s rule ended in 2008, after which a temporary castling was made: his close associate and current Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev became President. Before the 2012 elections, the duration of President’s rule was extended from 4 to 6 years. Putin returned in 2012 in the wake of serious domestic political problems and external challenges associated with the Arab Spring.
Recent opinion polls show that 69.3% of the population trusts the President’s activities, which appears to be strong foundation for maintaining power. However, the current Russian President, whose background relates to the Soviet security forces, is used to acting in strict compliance with the regulatory framework. The philosophy of Putinism proceeds from the fact that the achievement of any political goals should not contradict the Constitution. From this standpoint, it is unlikely to expect that Putin will openly violate the country's fundamental law. At the same time, he realizes that it is impossible to leave big politics without a well-qualified successor. The President of Russia is not only a guarantor of territorial integrity and the Supreme Commander-in-Chief but also a key factor in maintaining domestic political stability in the constant struggle of various influence groups: oligarchs, security officials, liberals, nationalists, communists. Providing stability depends not only on the correct balancing between different federal elites in Moscow but also on maintaining an acceptable model of dialogue with the regions.
The integrity of Russia can be guaranteed when various regions and republics fear and respect their central ruler. The leader must enjoy absolute honor among the population in the predominantly Islamic North Caucasus, Buddhist Kalmykia, and Orthodox Siberia. For most Russians, strength is a significant element of national identity. Each time, the leader must prove the ability to make the world respect Russia and its interests. History demonstrates that indecisive and weak rulers ended badly. Besides that, the country ended up falling apart as it happened during the reign of Emperor Nicholas II or the rule of Mikhail Gorbachev. Anyway, Vladimir Putin is unlikely to leave without reaching his main mission, the holistic and institutional return of Russia as a superpower. To this end, he must achieve a new Concert of the Great Powers where Moscow and Washington will agree on the separation of spheres of influence, as it was between the United States and the Soviet Union after World War II. Putin is convinced that without achieving this goal, the Russian state cannot have a geopolitical future.
The successful achievement of the strategic objective of forming a single Russian-Belarusian state can be a potential model for maintaining power. The ideologists of Putinism are convinced of the importance of uniting and institutionalizing the Russian world. And its main strongholds are Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. According to Putin, Belarusians and Ukrainians are part of a single Orthodox Russian civilization. Interestingly, the same thesis was put forward by Harvard Professor Samuel Huntington in his “Clash of Civilizations”. He was right, warning the world that Ukraine and Belarus were peculiar geopolitical red lines for the Russians, and Moscow would not calm down until it reached its total dominance in these countries. Today, Moscow and Minsk that already share this agreement on the Union State are very close to formalizing the actual joining. During the press conference, Putin openly stated that the problems of economic and energy preferences would not be resolved for Belarus until the issues of further “union building” were settled.
In other words, if this task is solved by 2024, then legislation and other political realities will automatically be formed that will allow Vladimir Putin to become the first de jure leader of the new state. It is in this status that he plans to speed up the process of creating the new architecture of international relations.
Den Kalmyk, Ph.D. was a senior lecturer at Yale University and Oxford University.