After the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine War in 2022, Vladimir Putin was repeatedly surrounded by rumors of critical illness and coup d'etat. This public opinion atmosphere cannot do without the fuel of the Western media, but it is also related to the continuation of the Russia-Ukraine War.
First of all, since the Russian army was unable to achieve a quick victory in Ukraine, and Russia’s strategic goals in Ukraine continued to change, rumors about power struggles within the Russian army were rampant. Valery Gerasimov lost power, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov came to power strongly, Wagnerian leader Yevgeny Prigozhin seized power, doomsday general Sergey Surovikin rose and fell, and so on. There are many kinds of things.
As for Putin, as the initiator of special military operations, he is naturally at the center of the public opinion storm. Related topics can be divided into two styles: "cancer" and "coup d'etat". Already waiting for the narrative, coups often emphasize the defeat of the Russian army on the battlefield and the serious internal strife in the Kremlin.
The two narratives lead to the same goal by different routes. In the end, they are all clichés that lead to the unsustainable Russian offensive and the imminent collapse of the Putin regime.
However, although the Western public opinion war is obvious and traces of exaggeration are clearly visible, the reality on which it is based still cannot be ignored: the performance of the Russian military is indeed not as good as expected, Moscow has criticized each other for this, and Putin's decision-making has been questioned.
In the final analysis, regardless of whether the Russo-Ukrainian war is beneficial to Russia in the long run, the Putin regime has been scarred by it.
Entering 2023, the Russian political arena is facing two key issues: first, whether Putin will run for the Russian presidency in 2024; second, how the Kremlin's political elite will act.
The two major problems may trigger a series of personnel changes and affect Russia's national direction in the next ten years.
Russian President Vladimir Putin inspects the Crimean Bridge on December 5.
Putin and the 2024 presidential election
The first is Putin's political career planning.
Russia held a constitutional referendum in 2022, which institutionally gave Putin the green light for re-election. As long as he is willing and successful, he will be able to serve as president until 2036.
Therefore, before the outbreak of the Russo-Ukraine War in 2022, all parties generally predicted that there were two possibilities in the Russian political arena: First, Putin will participate in the 2024 presidential election, and he will be re-elected without any surprises. The designated successor will be arranged to surface before 2036; second, Putin will launch a successor to participate in the 2024 presidential election, and he will retire to the national security system as a "shadow fighter". Following the model of Nursultan Nazarbayev in the early stage of Kazakhstan, the successor team will be constrained by cronies on a large scale, and continue to control part of Russia's state affairs.
The outbreak of the Russo-Ukrainian war actually added persuasiveness to both of the above.
First of all, the war led to Russia's international isolation and heavy sanctions. Even if there will be no economic collapse or political disintegration in the short term, there will inevitably be continuous disturbances.
Although the Russo-Ukraine War may end in 2023, the interaction between the West and Russia will not be quickly normalized. In other words, various political and economic penalties against Russia are likely to be extended to 2024 or even 2025.
Changing leaders rashly during this period may lead to political instability and national turmoil, and Putin and his team may also worry about the settlement after the fall of the regime. Therefore, they should try their best to consolidate the foundation of the ruling and gather the support of the majority of political elites. Resolutely invest in the 2024 general election and continue the wartime system to survive this crisis.
Half a year after Zelensky took office as Ukrainian president, he met with President Putin under the coordination of France and Germany to discuss the peace process in eastern Ukraine.
However, given that the war has bruised the Putin regime to a certain extent, it may be difficult for Putin to gain stable elite support even if he is willing to devote himself.
Under such circumstances, Putin will have a certain chance of being forced to abstain from the election, and then push other candidates to participate in the 2024 presidential election, in order to satisfy the wishes of the majority of political elites, while avoiding self-humiliation due to excessive bravado.
As for who to launch as a candidate, it is closely related to the Kremlin's political strife.
Since the outbreak of the Russo-Ukrainian War, although Russia has not reached the level of a coup d'état exaggerated by the West, its political elite is not monolithic. Some elites are becoming more and more convinced that it is necessary to consider special military operations to "stop losses", stop unrealistic attacks, negotiate pragmatically with Ukraine, and consider agreeing to withdraw part of the occupied territories in Ukraine under the context of seeking truth from facts.
The elites who hold this position are composed of technocrats, middle-level military and security officials. In their view, the development of the war has proved that the capabilities of the Russian military in Ukraine are limited. Moscow should suspend the escalation of the war and consider a more realistic political solution Program.
However, as the war continues to be unstoppable, some elites believe that Russia should not only increase its military investment in Ukraine, but also fundamentally reorganize its own political and economic system, and at the same time "correct" its excessively pro-Western political and civil atmosphere.
This elite group includes military and security officials, as well as hawkish politicians. Unlike moderates who express pessimism about the escalation of the war and believe that the chances of so-called "victory" are slim, the hawkish elites firmly believe that the Russia-Ukraine war is both a crisis and a coercion. The turning point of the national breakthrough.
If Putin fails to run in the 2024 general election and recommends candidates instead, both hawks and moderates will have a chance, depending on the degree of rivalry between the two camps.
The key to determining the strength of the two parties is naturally the development of the war and the political direction of Russia.
On May 7, 2000, Putin, whom Yeltsin single-handedly selected, became the President of the Russian Federation at the age of forty-eight.
Political elites mobilized for war
Of course, judging from the current Russian social atmosphere and political trends, the possibility of Putin's participation in the 2024 general election is still very high.
As mentioned earlier, the Putin regime is still far away from collapse, contrary to what the Western media has portrayed.
Not long after the war began, Putin began to promote the militarization of the country and the public sphere, suppressing anti-war forces and related public opinion, and at the same time continued to consolidate the tough anti-Western narrative. The propaganda axis of not giving up and not admitting defeat is trying to buffer the differences in elite positions intensified by the ups and downs of the war.
During this process, the mass media, cultural circles, and educational circles are the first propaganda outlets for the government to defend the war from various angles; Russian military bloggers and commentators on Telegram also expressed their disapproval of the war. Support and show stronger emotional power than the regular media, but there are also many voices criticizing the Russian military for being "not active enough", which to some extent exceeds the propaganda framework of the Putin regime, but the latter has to selectively tolerate it. Because the bloggers have at least shown a pro-Putin, pro-war stance.
In contrast, in the face of public opinion critical of the war, the Russian government’s countermeasures were quite vigorous. For example, the opposition politician Ilya Yashin made the statement that “the Russian army should be responsible for the Bucha massacre.” He was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison.
As of today, nearly 400 people in Russia have been criminally charged for their anti-war activities, and more than 5,500 have been fined, detained or banned from certain activities.
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a press conference on December 28, 2022.
Although the majority of people who sincerely believe in and actively support special military operations are not in the majority, the entire Russian society is clearly being shrouded in war mobilization.
In the absence of an effective opposition party, public anti-war narratives will only be wiped out by state violence one after another, so people have to acquiesce in Moscow's escalation of war investment, and some political elites have begun to "do something and not do something" for their own political future. It not only hopes to maintain its current status, but also hopes to find a chance for carp to leap to the dragon's gate at the end of Putin's term.
Dmitry Medvedev, the former president, former prime minister and vice chairman of the National Security Council, was an example. He was originally a representative of the Russian reformist group, but after the outbreak of the war, he showed a tough stance. He not only often fought with Western leaders, but also Repeatedly lashing out at nuclear issues.
Its strategy is obviously based on isolationist and populist narratives, blaming all of Russia's plight on external forces, which is not only in line with the Kremlin's war propaganda, but also obtains extremely high exposure for itself.
On December 26, Putin appointed Medvedev as the first vice-chairman of the newly established Russian Federation Military Industry Committee, apparently affirming his efforts. Medvedev, who had been considered hopeless to succeed, seemed to have recovered opportunity.
The same goes for Sergey Kiriyenko, First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Russian Presidential Administration.
At the age of 35, he became the youngest prime minister in Russian history, and now he is appointed by Putin to be in charge of matters related to the Russian-occupied Donbass in Ukraine. He was originally regarded as a member of the reformist group, and he also began to talk about eliminating fascists and Nazis in Ukraine.
On May 5, 2022, Kiriyenko visited the Russian-occupied city of Mariupol to participate in the unveiling ceremony of the "Babushka Anya" statue holding the Soviet flag, and said that "Babushka Anya is a symbol of the motherland for the entire Russian world." "On June 6, Kiriyenko visited Kherson, Russia, and held talks with local pro-Russian representatives on holding a referendum on joining Russia.
Although Kiriyenko was not directly involved in the special military operation, he has used the incident to successfully boost his political status.
Medvedev once published 10 predictions for 2023 on social media:
The Speaker of the State Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, who is regarded as one of the successor candidates, not only showed a hawkish stance, but also set the tone of the propaganda to some extent.
On February 24, 2022, Russia launched a special military operation. At that time, Volodin stated that the purpose of this operation was to "protect the people living in Ukraine" and "demilitarize Ukraine so that we can prevent the the only way to war".
Since then, he has successively published remarks such as "Anti-war Russians are traitors", "Ukraine has lost the ability to exist as a country", "Ukraine was occupied by NATO and became a colony of the United States", and consolidated its position as a pillar of public opinion.
However, not all political elites have turned to the hawks. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin, who are regarded as Putin's successors, have shown silence.
Sobyanin, who attended a rally in Moscow in support of special military operations in March and traveled to Luhansk in June, did not wear military uniform or call for the smashing of the Nazis, while Mishustin avoided the subject of the war entirely .
The silence of the two will of course reduce exposure, and there is a political risk of offending Putin, but their request may be more far-reaching: the war is only temporary, and Russia will one day restore relations with the West and even Ukraine. A hawk such as Vedev may not be able to win the trust of the West and Ukraine if he is in power; but if he keeps a low profile during the war and is like a blank sheet of paper, he may have more room to move.
Entering 2023, not only will Putin face the problem of how to plan for the 2024 general election, but elites from all walks of life will also continue to explore and adjust their own positioning.
This war will not only have an effect on the Putin regime, but will also surface "successors" who intend to participate in the post-Putin era.
Why Putin has a high chance of running for the 2024 presidential election?
Although the war caused some dissatisfaction, the Putin regime is still stable.
How did the Russian political elite react differently to the Russo-Ukrainian war?
Medvedev and other hawks actively cooperate with Moscow's war mobilization and propaganda, while Sobyanin and Mishustin relatively distance themselves.
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