The List: The Next President of Russia
Russian President Vladimir Putin promises that he will step down next year, and most analysts expect him to put his successor forward soon. In this week’s List, Moscow-based analyst Julian Evans takes a look at the candidates who are most likely to fill Putin’s shoes.
ANTON DENISOV/AFP/Getty Images
ANTON DENISOV/AFP/Getty Images
Who is he? The first of Putins three deputy prime ministers. His ties to the president go back a decade to their days together in St. Petersburg. Western analysts and investors see Medvedev as friendly to the market and the West.
Why hell get the job: Hes the most popular politician in Russia, after Putin. Medvedev owes his large public following to the generous coverage he gets on the state-run TV news. His position puts him in charge of the governments spending on housing, health, and education, allowing him to lavish Russias petrodollars on crowd-pleasing national projects. Plus, hes young, good-looking, and relatively trendy. And it doesnt hurt that as chairman of Gazprom, he has the resources of the biggest company in Russia at his disposal.
Why he wont: At only 41 years of age, he may be too young and untested for the job. Running the national projects is Medvedevs first real executive experience. Hes also connected with one particular Kremlin clanthe so-called St. Petersburg lawyers. Analysts say this connection would make it difficult for him to perform the key presidential role that both Yeltsin and Putin did of balancing different clans of financial-industrial interest groups.
Odds: The likely winner. As the next president, Medvedev could well oversee a shift in Russian domestic policy from stabilization to development.
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Who is he? Another deputy prime minister, as well as the minister of defense. Ivanov served with Putin as a senior officer in Russias Federal Security Bureau (FSB), an offspring of the KGB. Some senior U.S. government analysts are wary of his occasionally confrontational rhetoric towards NATO.
Why hell get the job: He’s one of them. A past in the security services counts for a lot with Putin, who sees them as a relatively uncorrupt caste in a corrupt society. Hes appointed FSB men to many of the top positions in the country, from ministries to oil companies, so its a good bet hell appoint another as his successor. He speaks fluent English, and is well respected by some Western diplomats, including Condoleezza Rice. She reportedly admires his ability to think for himself, unlike many Kremlin yes-men. The canny Ivanov would be well placed to capitalize if the Kremlin embarked on a pre-electoral war, as it did before Putins first election, when the Kremlin launched the second Chechen War.
Why he wont: Russias military has remained an unreformed and chaotic mess on his watch. His reputation was damaged last year by a vicious hazing incident in the army, during which he came across as an unfeeling technocrat. Fiona Hill, the head of the Russia department at the U.S. National Intelligence Council, says she was surprised by his belligerent anti-NATO rhetoric when the two met in 2005.
Odds: Quite possible. If Putin decides the next presidents priority is to protect Russias interests from the West, Ivanov will be his man.
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Who is he? A former KGB spook and current CEO of the Russian Railways. More than the other candidates, Yakunin has used his KGB connections to set up his own private business interests, and might decide to continue this practice if he became president.
Why hell get the job: Hes a member of Putins inner circle. Yakunin was one of the St. Petersburg spooks who lived in a summerhouse complex outside St. Petersburg in the 1990s. All of them have gone on to senior appointments in Putins government, and people have been mentioning Yakunin as a possible successor for some years. He has good foreign policy experience, from his time working as a KGB man at the United Nations, and has close links to the political elites in emerging powers like India.
Why he wont: Hes not well known by the general public. The reclusive Yakunin doesnt have much experience in dealing with the media. And some of Yakunins business deals from the 1990s make it look like he was profiting from his KGB connections for private gain.
Odds: The dark horse candidate. Yakunin might just be a surprise winner.
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Who is she? The current governor of St. Petersburg. Matvienkos the most senior woman in Putins government (in fact, the only woman). But shes actually a rather Soviet figure, conspicuous for her absence of original ideas.
Why shell get the job: Shes a woman. Female leaders have been in vogue in other countries as of late. A former ambassador, Matvienko has put in time overseas. And unique among top contenders, she also has media experience, having worked on the board at the TV channel ORT. As governor of St. Petersburg, she can claim success in attracting big businesses like Gazprom to set up headquarters there, though local residents complain that the skyscrapers they are constructing are ruining the citys skyline.
Why she wont: Matvienko is a bit of a lightweight compared to the other candidates. As an ambassador, she spent her time in obscure posts like Malta. She isnt that popular among St. Petersburgers, either, who think shes nowhere near as competent as Yuri Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow. They point out that Luzhkov has built four ring roads around Moscow, leading to his nickname Lord of the Rings, while the central roads in St. Petersburg still have potholes. And Matvienkos huge beehive hairstyle just looks strange to increasingly fashion-conscious Russian voters.
Odds: Slim. It would be a big surprise if Matvienko were nominated as successor.
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Who is he? Second president of the Russian Federation.
Why he will get the job: Because hes still the boss. Many Russians would like Putin to stay on for a third term, viewing him as the savior of the nation after the chaos of the 1990s. The stable, centralized system he has built, many argue, depends on his strong hand, without which chaos would return. In particular, the nouveau riche of Moscow and St. Petersburg want him to stay on to make sure their newly acquired assets remain safe. And at a spry 54, Putin is still young.
Why he wont: He just might respect his own laws. The Russian constitution forbids him from running again. Putin has said repeatedly that he will step down, because I couldnt tell other people to obey the law if I destroyed it myself, and the constitution is our most sacred law. If he did stay on, it would lead to much frostier relations with Western governments, many of which are already concerned about his increasingly autocratic methods. Then again, he hasnt let any of that bother him before.
Odds: Very unlikely. But hell still be a powerful force in the political scene after he steps down, and could come back in 2012.
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