Who If Not Putin?

Making a choice between an opposition leader and pro-Kremlin candidates: possible runner-ups for presidency in Russia.


“Wake up we have a tsar [a way to call a Russian emperor] again”, this was a text on a piece of paper that a man was holding while standing on the Red Square, the heart of the Moscow Kremlin, in June 2021. His picket was 10-second long until he was interfered with by the police who then went on to arrest him. This was not a surprise for Russians. In fact, for most of them, it was a reason to smile. For the past years, thousands of Russians were arrested for demonstrating their points of view and using their right to speak freely. This is what happens when a president is afraid of democracy and losing his power. Vladimir Putin, the president of the Russian Federation, has been in power for the last 21 years: 17 years as a president and 4 years as prime minister, and he has no intention to resign. In 2020, the Russian Constitution was changed by a fake referendum, and now, according to the new version of the main law, Putin can stay in power till 2036. Whether he will or not, his rating is not stable. Pursuant to Levada center’s polls, Putin’s approval rating has been going down since 2018 and right now is on the level of 2011-2012 when massive protests took place. At the same time, these numbers are rapidly dropping among youngsters (from 80% in 2018 to 51% in 2021). If the rating will continue to reduce, citizens may start demanding to substitute Vladimir Putin. In this case, a successor needs to be found. This article will introduce candidates who might substitute Putin and become a new Russian president.

Alexey Navalny

A prominent opposition activist whose tireless fight for human rights in Russia cost him nearly his life and his freedom, Alexey has been a leader of anti-Kremlin opposition for the last 10 years. In 2011, he founded an Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) which has released dozens of corruption-uncovering investigations including stories about the former Russian president, Dmitri Medvedev, and Vladimir Putin. These investigations opened Russians’ eyes to their authorities and were reasons for massive protests. 

Navalny’s indefatigable work was noted by the European Parliament which awarded him with the Sakharov Prize for the Freedom of Thought. 

Right now, Alexey Navalny is in prison for violating the terms of his suspended sentence in a 6-year-old case that The European Court of Human Rights called “arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable”. Technically, according to the Constitution, a convicted person cannot become a president. However, Alexey’s criminal cases are not juridically proved and cannot be considered legal. In order to run for the election campaign, he will have to be acquitted by the Russian Court. 

On the other hand, Navalny has been accused of nationalism and xenophobia. In the 2000s, he participated in the annual Russian March, a Russian nationalist demonstration held under the slogan “It’s our country”. Back then, Alexey also released some pro-gun and anti-immigrant videos where he presents himself as a “certified nationalist” and calls Muslim militants “cockroaches” as well as calls for the immediate deportation of illegal immigrants. These kinds of views are not appropriate in a country where more than 100 different ethnic groups live. Furthermore, despite his major in law, Alexey Navalny has no experience in working as a civil servant. His attempts to become a mayor or a president were unsuccessful since he has either lost the elections, as in 2013, or the Russian authorities ban him from participating in the process, as has happened multiple times. 

In my point of view, Alexey Navalny is a candidate who deserves a chance to develop a democratic regime in Russia. Even if he proposed nationalistic and xenophobic laws, our society would have an opportunity to protest safely and demand justice for immigrants. Thus, Russia would become a country where basic human rights like freedom of speech are valued.

Alexey Navalny (Instagram)

Sergey Lavrov

A famous Russian diplomat and politician who has been in state service since 1994: first, as a Russian Ambassador to the UN, then, from 2004, as the Foreign Minister of Russia. According to numerous polls, Lavrov is one of the most trusted politicians in Russia. He also got numerous honours and degrees including Hero of Labour of the Russian Federation. United Russia even took advantage of his high rating to win the elections. Lavrov became one of 5 politicians who led the United Russia’s campaign for legislative elections last September. 

Despite Sergey’s immaculate reputation, he is also known for massive corruption and bribes. Right before the recent elections, The Insider released an investigation about Lavrov’s treasures. According to the publisher, the minister owns property worth about 600 million rubles (7 million euros) which is Sergey’s and his wife’s income for more than 60 years. What is more, Navalny’s team released a video about Lavrov’s “female companion” who follows him on many “working trips” and whose family uses a Russian oligarch’s private planes and lives in fancy villas. As the investigators claim, in his turn, Lavrov lobbies the oligarch’s interests in foreign affairs.

Lavrov could be the next president that Putin may personally claim as his successor. 16 years of heading the Foreign Ministry demonstrate Putin’s trust in Lavrov. Sergey, whose external politics was as negatively set up towards the West as Putin’s, would probably adopt the oppressive style of domestic politics from his predecessor and would not justify political prisoners. So, Lavrov is a good option only for the dictated future of Russia.

El ministro de Asuntos Exteriores ruso, Serguéi Lavrov - Sputnik Mundo, 1920, 19.05.2021
Press service of the Foreign Affairs Ministry

Sergey Shoigu 

Sergey Shoigu, The Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation as well as the General of the Russian Army, is also one of the founders of United Russia and a former Minister of Emergency Situations. Shoigu is second to the most trusted politicians in Russia, going after Vladimir Putin. His rating is even higher than Lavrov’s. This is the reason why he, as well as the previous candidate, Sergey was included in United Russia’s list of candidates for the recent legislative elections. Such a high estimation of Shoigu’s figure is given for his control of the army. Russian state propaganda is used to tell how soldiers who obey Shoigu defend Crimea from NATO’s forces. In fact, according to Agenstvo media, the main state channel showed 110 stories personally about Sergey during the last two years. What is more, Agenstvo also found out that Shoigu’s spotless reputation is a result of his own control over the news concerning him. Since Sergey’s presence in the Ministry of Defense office its press center has become a nearly 100-people around-the-clock department. Also, since 2010 the Ministry stopped publishing data about dead soldiers, and 5 years after Putin classified any numbers about troops that died during special operations. Thus, the Shoigu’s Ministry does not have to publish the death toll in Syria and Ukraine, which contributes to Sergey’s immaculate image in Russians’ eyes. 

He and Putin travel together to Siberia annually, enjoying true nature side by side. Coming from this part of Russia, Shoigu knows what places to show to impress the Russian president. Some people even call the Defense Minister Putin’s tour operator.  Combining Shoigu’s high rating and his long-lasting friendship with the current head of the State, Sergey’s presidency is quite possible. But what can be worse than having a president who has experience in security and defense office? Many countries’ history demonstrated the consequences of these scenarios such as a complete military dictatorship in Cuba and Spain in the 20th century. Thus, Shoigu is the right successor only for autocratic or even totalitarian Russia’s future.

A person in a uniform

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Press service of the Foreign Affairs Ministry

Sergey Sobyanin

A prominent Russian politician who has been in state service since the 1990s in Siberia and since 2005 in Moscow. At the beginning of the 21st century, Sobyanin served as a mayor of a city called Tyumen. Throughout Sergey’s governance, Tyumen became one of the leading cities in Siberia with a modern airport, bus station, new high-quality roads, and a beautiful boulevard. Sobyanin is one of United Russia’s leaders. He is also quite close to Vladimir Putin as he has been the Head of the presidential administration. After obtaining such a high position, Sergey continued to climb even higher up the rankings, and nowadays, he is popular for his activity as a mayor of Moscow for 11 years. Without any doubt, since Sobyanin’s authority, Moscow has become more citizen-friendly and convenient. Paid parking areas have significantly reduced traffic jams in Moscow streets. The Russian capital also became famous for its new reconstructed highways, cycling paths, refurbished parks, and fast-building metro. Muscovites can now use many social and public services in digitized ways with applications and websites. All in all, Moscow has turned out to be a true capital megapolis. Such work brought Sobyanin Muscovites’ trust.

On the other hand, Sergey’s methods of landscaping and development cause some questions. According to some investigations, the Moscow mayor tendered his relatives and colleagues’ companies for the city’s development projects to pocket the government funds and make a greater personal profit. What is more, Moscow’s budget has nearly doubled since Sobyanin’s governance, totaling almost a quarter of the rest of the Russian regions altogether. This is why most provincial citizens are not in favour of Sergey. 

Although Sobyanin is quite good at urbanism and majoring, it is doubtful that he is the right candidate for the presidency, since his massive bribery cases are completely inappropriate. Imagine living in a country where everything is rotted with corruption, from the capital to regions. Well, Russians have no need to imagine, as this is exactly what is happening with the country right now and will probably continue to happen during Sobyanin’s presidency. So, does Russia really need another Putin reborn in the face of Sergey Sobyanin?

Мэр Москвы С. Собянин посетил Боткинскую больницу
РИА Новости

We have considered 4 options for the future president of the Russian Federation. Although they are different in terms of experience and political views, all of them hold a solid percentage of the electorate. Of course, there are more candidates such as the current Prime Minister, Mikhail Mishustin, or a leader of the Liberal Party, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, or even the former president, Dmitri Medvedev. However, they are dwarfed by either Navalny’s tireless fight or by Sobyanin’s serious ambitions. In the next article, we will explore Russians’ presidential preferences and discover the grounds of their candidate’s choice.


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