Putin’s Leaving the Presidency Will Create Problems for Regime Even If He Stays in Power, Focus Groups Suggest

File Photo of Vladimir Putin at Podium with United Russia Logo, Gesturing

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, February 20, 2020)

In preparing a study on the implications of Vladimir Putin’s leaving office or leaving power altogether, the Center for Political Conjuncture held four focus groups in which people expressed their concerns about those possibilities. Their comments suggest if he leaves the presidency, the regime will face problems even if he remains in power.

The focus groups were held in Moscow, Perm, Volgograd and Irkutsk at the end of January. Based on the comments of participants, the Center under the direction of Aleksey Chesnikov classified their worries about Putin’s departure as high, mid-range or low (cpkr.ru/analytics/uyti-nelzya-ostatsya).

Their greatest concerns based on frequency of mention are that Putin’s departure would lead to an intensification of the struggle for power, a new dividing up of property, a reduction in social supports from the government, the threat of defeats abroad, and the possibility that a new leader will break with Putin’s course.

Their medium level concerns are that his exit would lead to an intensification of inter-ethnic conflicts and of separatist attitudes. And their low-level risks were a significant worsening of the economic situation, a revenge move by the former oligarchs, and sharper civic conflict as a result.

The study identified as a major political and psychological problem for the Kremlin in that it found that if Putin remains in power but shifts to a new position, that alone will be unsettling to Russians and will require the regime to provide them with some kind of political compensation.

That view is hardly universal. Lev Gudkov of the Levada Center says that his surveys show that Putin’s departure from the Kremlin will be met with indifference because they think in terms of him alone rather than in terms of any office he may have occupied or will occupy in the future (svpressa.ru/society/article/257822/).

At the very least, he suggests, one can say that there won’t be a political crisis if Putin remains in power but under a new title. If he leaves power completely, something highly unlikely, the sociologist suggests, then a crisis is possible even likely but not under any other condition.