Less than six weeks before a presidential vote, Russia should be right in the thick of a heated election campaign. But with Vladimir Putin’s victory on 18 March all but in the bag, the thoughts of the Russian elite are occupied with a much bigger electoral problem: what happens at the next vote, in 2024? With nothing much at stake this time around, the Kremlin’s most pressing problem for the 2018 vote is ensuring enough people show up on polling day to make the turnout percentage respectable – which the opposition are trying to bring down through calls for a boycott. The problems on the 2024 horizon are far more serious.
Over the years, Putin’s dominance over the Russian political landscape has grown. Vicious battles may be going on behind the scenes, but a Kremlin without Putin as the ultimate arbiter seems hard to imagine now. Vyacheslav Volodin, a key Putin aide who is now the speaker of the Russian parliament, said in 2014: “If there is Putin, there is Russia. If there is no Putin, there is no Russia.”
By 2024, Putin will be 72. He currently shows little sign of illness, and could feasibly enjoy another decade of good physical and mental health. Under Putin, the influence of other players on the political playing field has been decimated, so there are very few politicians with any real kind of independent support base or profile.