War, reforms and a possible successor? Here’s what we could see from 6 more years of Putin

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Russian President and presidential candidate Vladimir Putin addresses the crowd during a rally and a concert celebrating the 10th anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea at Red Square in Moscow on March 18, 2024.

Natalia Kolesnikova | Afp | Getty Images

It was among the least surprising political events so far this year, but Vladimir Putin’s reelection to a fifth term in office comes at a time of geopolitical and economic uncertainty for Russia, prompting questions as to what we can expect from another six years of the Russian strongman’s leadership.

With Putin winning the vote by a huge margin, according to the Kremlin and its the Central Election Commission, the 2024 Russian election aimed to demonstrate that Russian society was “consolidated” around the president and that his domestic and foreign policies had the blessing of Russians both within the country and in its claimed “new” territories illegally annexed from Ukraine, as well as abroad.

That message was meant to be encapsulated neatly in the “landslide” 87% of voters that elected him, according to the electoral authorities, and the “record-breaking, unprecedented” voter turnout of 77.4%, up from 67.7% in 2018.

Analysts share their views on what we can expect now that Putin has strengthened his grip on power, with the Ukraine war, domestic economic reforms and a possible government reshuffle key factors to watch.

War footing

Russia’s strategy in the war in Ukraine will be a major focus for the Kremlin in the immediate and near-term future, analysts say, with Russia appearing to have a military advantage on the battlefield in recent months. The U.S. presidential election later this year, meanwhile, puts the future of military aid for Ukraine into doubt.

Russia could look to push home its advantage over the next year, sending more manpower to the front, although that could have ramifications back home.

“In his post-election speech on Sunday night, Putin said that the main goals of his next six years include the special military operation and strengthening the country’s defence capabilities. The war is popular in Russia but mobilisations of the population are not and the wide election victory could embolden Putin to step up the military effort,” Liam Peach, senior emerging markets economist at Capital Economics, said in analysis Monday.

Ukrainian soldiers unload explosive charges in the direction of Bakhmut as Russia-Ukraine war continues in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on March 13, 2024.

Jose Colon | Anadolu | Getty Images

Russian citizens drafted during the partial mobilization being dispatched to combat coordination areas after a military call-up for the Russia-Ukraine war in Moscow, Russia, on Oct. 10, 2022.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Opinion polls show that a majority of Russians do not expect mobilization in the near term, Tursa noted, and “given that the previous round of mobilization proved highly unpopular and triggered considerable public anxiety, Putin will try to avoid this for as long as possible,” he added.

Adeline Van Houtte, senior Europe consultant at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said that the U.S. election, expected to be held in November, will be an event that Russia is watching closely.

“While we expect the war in Ukraine to probably slowly settle into a frozen conflict with an unstable dividing line and no prospect of a lasting peace, the potential re-election of Donald Trump in the U.S. in November could tip the balance in favour of Russia,” she said Monday.

Domestic reforms

Analysts are also looking at domestic reforms and economic policies that Putin might choose to enact after an election result that the Kremlin portrayed as a “unique” show of support for the president.

That Western countries condemned the vote as “neither free nor fair,” saying it had taken place against a backdrop of political repression and censorship, was dismissed as “absurd” by the Kremlin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov on Monday.

Having cleared more of a procedural hurdle than a real test of his policies and popularity in the election, Putin will have more freedom to advance contentious reforms at home, analysts note.

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivering an annual address to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, at Moscow’s Gostiny Dvor, in Moscow on Feb. 29, 2024.

Anadolu | Anadolu | Getty Images

“The focus now will be on whether this emboldens Putin to devote more resources to the war effort, whether policymakers push through unpopular non-war fiscal tightening to maintain macroeconomic stability and whether there are any changes in the political landscape, including the positions of power close to Putin,” Capital Economics’ Peach said.

Putin had already flagged public spending programs and potential fiscal reforms in his State of the Nation address to Russian lawmakers in February. During the speech, which read like an election manifesto, the president flagged $126 billion in infrastructure and social spending over the next six years.

New national programs focused on supporting families, such as with the subsidized mortgages scheme, as well as proposals to reduce poverty and improve the nation’s health and life expectancy. Putin also said he was thinking about ways to modernize Russia’s fiscal system to create a “fairer distribution of the tax burden towards those with higher personal and corporate incomes.”

MOSCOW, RUSSIA – JANUARY 8: (RUSSIA OUT) A woman eats hot corn while walking along the Red Square near the Kremlin, as air temperatures dropped to -18 degrees Celcius, January,8 2024, in Moscow, Russia. Since the beginning of the year, abnormally cold weather has settled in Moscow region, causing problems with heating in apartments. (Photo by Contributor/Getty Images)

Contributor | Getty Images News | Getty Images

While the government will present specific proposals in the near future, Tursa noted that the speech suggested that “Russian citizens and companies are likely to see an overall increase in tax burden to help finance the war and address broader fiscal challenges.”

Capital Economics’ Peach said the initiatives Putin flagged were important, but agreed that from a near-term fiscal perspective, “the big thing to watch is whether the government pushes through unpopular non-war fiscal tightening to accommodate higher military spending.”

A reshuffle … and possible successor?

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting of members of his Security Council and the government and the heads of law enforcement agencies, at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia October 30, 2023. Sputnik/Gavriil Grigorov/Pool via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

Gavriil Grigorov | Sputnik | Reuters

Andrey Pertsev, a Russian journalist writing for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, noted in analysis last week that “creating a new political post to oversee major social spending plans will cause a shift in the balance of power within Russia’s bureaucracy.”

“The social spending commitments made by Russian President Vladimir Putin in his February state of the nation address indicate that at least one Russian official will get an influential new job. The lucky person will likely be either a deputy prime minister with expanded powers, or a special coordinator” that has direct and regular access to the president, he noted.

“Either way, they’ll get regular access to the president, the opportunity to disburse large sums, and the tools to shape their public image. That will automatically create an alternative center of power within the government,” he said.

Pertsev said the appointment is likely to prompt Russia’s elite to start “thinking about a possible successor to Putin.”

“The person who gets the job will inevitably be seen in a new light … For many years now, Putin has avoided a major reshuffle among Russia’s top officials in order to head off any speculation about power transitions or successors. Now, however, he has little choice but to empower a major new political player,” he said.

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