In the previous part of this story, I introduced four candidates who can substitute Vladimir Putin as a president of the Russian Federation. Navalny, Lavrov, Shoigu, and Sobyanin are politicians who are likely to become Putin’s successor. But who do you think Russian citizens want to see as their new Head of the State? In this second part, we are going to find out Russians’ preferences and motives behind them.
In November 2021, 65 random respondents from Russia took part in my survey, which gave them the option of choosing between 10 candidates who they would prefer as the new Russian president. Apart from those four politicians you have already met, there was the current prime-minister Mikhail Mishustin, the former president Dmitri Medvedev, a leader of the Liberal party Vladimir Zhirinovsky and others.
Talking about the poll’s outcomes, the biggest proportion of respondents (39,4%) would like to see the opposition leader, Alexey Navalny, as the president of the Russian Federation. The second place in the poll (10,6%) was given to Sergey Lavrov, the Minister of Foreign affairs. Sergey Shoigu, the Minister of Defense, gained the favour of 7,6% of respondents. Mikhail Mishustin, the current Prime Minister with unnoticed slight activity, was chosen by 4,5% of survey participants. 6,1% of respondents would like to see a Russian president in the face of Vladimir Zhirinovsky who is considered a populistic and nationalistic showman of Russian politics. The Moscow mayor, Sergey Sobyanin, as well as Dmitri Medvedev, was chosen by 3% of contributors. What is more, 10,5% of respondents could not choose or name a political figure that could substitute Vladimir Putin as President. The rest suggested other candidates like the former communist party leader, Gennady Zyuganov, or the previous governor of a Far East area and a current prisoner, Sergey Furgal.
Some of the contributors were interviewed, so they had a chance to explain their choice. A Russian professor of finance who works in the IE Business School, Maxim Mironov, gave his vote to the opposition leader, Alexey Navalny. Having been friends since 2009 and having developed an economic plan for Navalny’s political campaign, Maxim says that Navalny is “not only a smart person but also a very brave and mature one.” The professor also admits that “right now Russian politics is a fate of courageous and desperate people, but when it becomes less risky, there will be tens or even hundreds of decent politicians.” Indeed, nowadays, all activists who wanted to take part in Russian politics were either imprisoned or forced to leave the country.
Furthermore, a brilliant freshman IE University student who moved from Russia to Madrid a couple of months ago and who also prefers to stay anonymous admits that Putin has lost the sense of the real situation in Russia and sees him as the perfect example of corruption of power. At first, the anonymous contributor had difficulties making a choice in the survey but, eventually, gave their vote to Alexey Navalny. They want to see the opposition leader as a Russian president as such “will start a new era of opposition candidates who believe in themselves and in their taking up the posts.” The interviewee calls Navalny “a very talented public figure who became a symbol of resistance in Russia.” However, they also point out that Alexey is not ready to become a president in the nearest future because he “has never worked in public office,” which demonstrates his lack of experience. What is more, the anonymous contributor also calls Navalny’s nationalistic background “very controversial” and thinks that it may “cause questions from the European Union.”
On the other hand, one more 17-year-old anonymous interviewee who considers themselves apolitical says that Putin is not eternal, so there is a need for a successor, but only as long as the situation does not get worse. Unlike previous respondents, he believes that it would be better to let one of Putin’s allies “test-drive”; by process of elimination the contributor chose Sergey Shoigu, the Minister of Defense, as the respondent calls him “frugal and caring since he managed to structure and organize the work of Ministry of Emergency Situations, as well as of Defense one.” According to their opinion, Sobyanin’s refurbishment made some areas of Moscow “grey and unsightly.” So, the contributor, as a born Muscovite, is not in favour of the mayor. The respondent did not give his vote to Navalny because of his views on the immigration processes like demanding visa requirements for citizens of Central Asia countries. In fact, in 2013, Alexey and his team even developed a legislative draft for such a law and collected signatures for it. In the end, the draft did not get enough votes to be viewed by the legislative organ.
Another Russian IE international relations student who moved from Russia a year ago, Alisa Lazurenko, chose Navalny. In her opinion, Alexey’s main feature is his “independence from the current authorities compared to other candidates from the list who one way or another cooperate with the Kremlin.” She also admits that “all other candidates, for example, Zyuganov or Zhirinovsky, may be better than Putin, but they will not bring new ideas as we all could see they obey the current State.” Indeed, Alisa’s point has grounds, since Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky are leaders of political parties that are considered a “systematic opposition” loyal to the Kremlin.
Considering the poll’s results and interviews, it is possible to suppose that Alexey Navalny is Russia’s favourite candidate. However, the real situation is different. While in 2020, his approval rating was 20%, in June 2021, after his organization was officially recognized as extremist, only 14% of Russians supported Navalny. The longer he is in prison, the more his popularity suffers. Even if Alexey Navalny is released in 2023, his intention to become a new president will have to be followed by a massive campaign that Russians could truly trust and believe in.
In another case, if Vladimir Putin decides to repeat his predecessor’s fate, Boris Yeltsin, he will choose a successor himself. Without a doubt, this person will be a member of the ruling party, United Russia. So, Sergey Lavrov, Sergei Shoigu, or even Sergey Sobyanin could be substitutions. However, I would not be so sure about any of these candidates’ presidencies. Vladimir Putin, as a true former KGB agent, never makes things obvious. He is prone to hold intrigue until the last minute. For example, when President Putin had to choose a successor in 2008, so he could take the post of prime minister, the Head of the State only began to support Medvedev’s candidacy three months before elections. Therefore, it is hard to predict the next president of Russia that could substitute Putin.
Whoever becomes Vladimir Putin’s successor, Navalny or Shoigu, Sobyanin or Lavrov, it is obvious that Russians demand democracy. New generations are becoming a part of the electorate. Millennials and Generation Z were infants or were not even alive in the 1990s and cannot compare that dreadful part of Russian history to nowadays. They are a part of a new digital era where freedom is a milestone. Young voters want to see a free and happy Russia. Although Professor Maxim Mironov thinks that there will be no protests in case of Putin’s win in the 2024 presidential elections, it is Millennials and Gen Z who can play a key role in changing the future of Russia.