- Following his re-election on 18 March 2018, by a respectable but not wholly earned margin of victory, Vladimir Putin will embark on what will, under present constitutional arrangements, be his final six-year term in office.
- Putin’s Russia is ruled by an opaque and shifting power structure centred on the Kremlin. It is now devoid of authoritative institutions beyond that framework that would enable Russia to develop into a fully functional or accountable state. The main objective of the incumbent regime is to protect its hold on power. It will therefore continue, between now and 2024, to follow the three main policy guidelines set by Putin in 2012: to do without significant structural economic reforms because of the political risks attached to them; to control the population; and to pursue ‘great power’ ambitions.
- Notwithstanding some modest economic recovery latterly, all indications are that economic performance will be mediocre at best in the coming years. A context of ‘neo-stagnation’ is anticipated. The domestic interests of the population at large will continue to take second place to the security and military expenditure favoured by the leadership. Managing the relationship between the regions and the federal centre will take imagination and care.
- The ‘vertical of power’ of Putin’s vision is not the coherent structure that its name suggests. Shifting ‘understandings’ of what is permitted or required determine patterns of behaviour, not clear laws or independent courts. The FSB, the successor to the KGB, operates at the heart of the system – at times in rivalry with other agencies – both as a disparate security collective and as a group with its own interests in fleecing the public. Corruption is inherent in the Putinist order of things. The natural pathology of these factors is for repression and extortion to continue to rise.
- As 2024 approaches, the question of who or what will replace Putin will come increasingly to the fore. There is already a sense that Russia is entering a post-Putin era. The vote for him on 18 March is one of accepting the inevitable, not a personal triumph. There is no organized group around him to manage an eventual replacement, or to be ready to consider what his successor’s (or successors’) objectives should be.
- Putin’s abiding commitment to Russia’s right to be a great power, dominant over its neighbours, was once more made plain in his ‘state of the nation’ address to the Federal Assembly on 1 March, along with the distortions that go with it. The use, just two weeks before the presidential election, of a military-grade nerve agent to poison a former GRU officer and his daughter in the UK city of Salisbury has reinforced the case for greater vigilance as to the real nature of the present Kremlin.
- The West should pay close attention to the Kremlin’s human rights record over the next several years, and the way it fits with Russia’s existing international obligations. The exercise of justice is a basic obligation of all states, and a clear indicator of a country’s future development. Putin’s Kremlin is not the whole of Russia: the Russian people will to an important degree judge the countries of the West by their moral record in considering what may be good for Russia in due course.