Guest Post : Speedbox – Putin’s Russia

Russia is difficult to govern at the best of times and there were, and are, a range of issues that allow Vladimir Putin to retain the Presidency. Very few Western political leaders could cope with managing the country, the economy or the international politics. Leaders such as Joe Biden, Justin Trudeau, Jacinda Ardern, Boris Johnson or our Scott Morrison would be eaten alive in Russia. Like him or hate him, Putin is wily and tough – but is his time as leader coming to an end?

This year and next will be pivotal for Russian domestic politics and international relations, with events in both arenas poised to have a determinative impact on Russia’s trajectory for years, if not decades. With Putin’s omnipresence a defining feature of Russia’s strategy, how domestic political rivals and international players manoeuvre in and around his path will significantly shape the global geopolitical landscape.

Putin’s current term does not end until 2024 and a referendum in 2020 gave him the ability to remain president until 2036. When his formal tenure ends however, won’t just be a matter of preference.

Putin is wary of leaving office with Russia in any political, social, and economic disarray and will only step aside when he can be confident of a steady transition to a successor of his choosing. He is looking ahead to the State Duma elections in September to serve as a bellwether for his voluntary departure timeline.

If Putin’s United Russia party does well in September, Putin has a three year window to pursue a relatively smooth transition. If United Russia does not have a particularly strong showing, Putin is likely to stay on after 2024, hedging his bets that he can improve transition conditions over time.

Whilst international observers will focus on September’s State Duma elections, the status of Alexei Navalny is also filled with risk for Putin. Various governments, notably the US, have protested his imprisonment and this has prompted EU members to also express their displeasure. Russia significantly depends on the EU for the importation of its oil and gas so the enactment of additional sanctions, curtailment of supply contracts or other punitive measures would not pass unnoticed in Russia.

From an risk perspective, it is difficult to ratify Putin’s cost-benefit analysis on Navalny. Russia’s domestic political landscape and economic outlook are largely stable but the country will not benefit from additional negative international attention. One of the enduring issues in Russia is that it resents not always being accorded its rightful place in the international sphere so the treatment of Navalny weakens Putin’s international credibility.

I think 2021/22 will be a pivotal for Putin with a convergence of domestic and foreign policy issues. Coupled with the Black Swan event we know as covid, there are very real implications for Russia’s economy and Putin’s political future not to mention thornier strategic concerns and goals.

Putin knows that expanding Russia’s realm of influence requires varying degrees of focus to most points of the globe: westward to the EU, east to the USA and various points south to the Balkans, the Middle East and management of the expanded relationship with China. While many European countries remain transfixed by covid, their economies and other internal issues, 2021/22 is a prime time for Russia to double down to build influence and re-build relationships, notably with the US and some in the EU.

The success, or otherwise, of Russia’s international relationships will pay a role in Putin deciding to hang up his boots from day-to-day politics. It is unlikely that he will retire altogether – he will remain a kingmaker in Russia for many years – but at 68 years old, mortality is beginning to make its presence felt. If Putin is confident that he can handover a domestically strong and internationally relevant country, the Putin era will draw to a close.

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15 Responses to Guest Post : Speedbox – Putin’s Russia

  1. V I Lenin says:

    Good summery Speedbox .you obviouly know Russia , I suppose love of Mother Russia still exists there ,unlike theWest where many citizens hate their own history and country .

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  2. The Beer whisperer says:
  3. The Beer whisperer says:

    Seriously? Why do my posts not appear on open fora?


    Adam, are you there?


    Oh, and great stuff, Speedbox.

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  4. The Beer whisperer says:

    Adam? Why can I only post “test”?

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  5. The Beer whisperer says:

    I can only post a single sentence?

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  6. The Beer whisperer says:
  7. The Beer Whisperer says:

    Sorry, Speedbox, I’ve crapped on your thread. For some reason, Chrome won’t show my posts, but DuckDuckGo does. I’ll show myself out.

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  8. Shane says:

    All very well and good young Benn, but what does our former feline foreign affaires authority, ADF desk jockey, fabian skeptic neophyte, our very own Lucy QC , have to say on this subject of Putin , that notorious confrere of his bête noir, DJT?

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  9. John A says:

    V I Lenin says:
    August 20, 2021 at 4:42 pm

    Good summary Speedbox. you obviously know Russia. I suppose love of Mother Russia still exists there, unlike the West where many citizens hate their own history and country.

    It isn’t just that many citizens hate, but the particular citizens who are so-called “opinion-leaders” “movers and shakers” “the elite” or “the power behind the White House”

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  10. John A says:

    Good to see clicky buttons for common functions but they seem not to work…

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  11. BorisG says:

    WAW your defense of this tyrant is amazing. Know Russia? You must be kidding. Since Putin’s botched attempt to kill Navalny a year ago, he has been orchestrating a campaign of political repression that is extraordinary even by Russian standards (even though he has still a long way to go to match Stalin), jailing, assassinating or driving out of the country every single media outlet and independent journalist, let alone a politician.  Questioning Russian illegal occupation of Crimea is now a criminal offense.

    Western sanctions against this tyrannical and aggressive empire is a joke. Biden said Putin is a killer but talk is cheap. Putin is bend on undermining the US and western interest around the globe, most recently in blatant hacking attempts in the US, and all the west does is turn another cheek. Putin’s useful idiots claim they need Russia on side to unite against China but Putin views the US as its biggest adversary and would never do anything to help the west in this or any other battle, and will work to undermine them in any way possible.

    what is extraordinary is how open Putin is in his attitude towards the west. John Kerry went to Russia to talk about climate change. You know who Putin has out in charge of negotiating with Kerry? a former senior police officer from Chechnya, whose only claim to fame is prosecuting opponents of Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov. Trolling par excellence!

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  12. Speedbox says:

    Boris – this post neither defended or attacked Putin.  It was, and intended to be, an assessment of whether he will continue to be President and the conditions leading to his stepping down from that role.

    Russia is a deeply complex country with a vast number of issues, both good and bad, and Putin’s potential retirement (or not) from the Presidency following the next elections will have huge implications either way.

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  13. Roger says:

    2021/22 is a prime time for Russia to double down to build influence and re-build relationships, notably with the US and some in the EU


    I’m not sure Putin is into “building relationships”. His is a purely transactional worldview.

    His great problem is domestic. He has lost the support of Russian people and has had to enact draconian measures – even by his standards – to suppress public expressions of dissent. Nevertheless, detention centres are overflowing. And his economy has stalled, if not gone into reverse.

    By that measure, Putin’s reign is coming to an end.  The future likely belongs to Navalny.


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  14. BorisG says:

    Just one point: The author says that it is notoriously difficult to govern Russia. On what basis he makes this claim is completely unclear. One test would be if leaders found it too hard and stepped down. From this perspective, there have not been many leaders in Russia in the last 200 years who voluntarily stepped down. Most died on the throne or in office, while a few were removed.  Perhaps Yeltsin was the only one to step down at the end of his term, but he was very ill and extremely unpopular at the time (which never stopped many others but he was perhaps slightly different).

    Putin has now surpassed Brezhnev in the duration of his rule, even though Brezhnev’s time looked like an eternity. Surely if it was too hard, he would have stepped down. Back in the early days he laughed off suggestions he will stay in power beyond two terms asking rhetorically who would want to do this job for such long time? Clearly he found it easier and more rewarding than he expected. Rumours have it he is the richest man on the planet.

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  15. BorisG says:

    By that measure, Putin’s reign is coming to an end.  The future likely belongs to Navalny.


    wishful thinking. We see how even the most unpopular dictators cling to power. Just look at Venesuela or Belarus.

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