The poisoned chalice: Is Russia’s powerbase fracturing?

In recent years, cracks have been seen within the upper echelons of Russian political power, signaling potential shifts that could fundamentally alter the leadership landscape. This dynamic situation stems from a blend of aging leaders, internal challenges and geopolitical pressures, suggesting that change may be on the horizon.

Historically, leadership transitions in Russia have witnessed change and consolidation of power. One instance of note was Vladimir Putin’s appointment of Ramzan Kadyrov as the leader of Chechnya in February 2007, a position he continues to hold to this day. His father, Akhmad Kadyrov, held the position before him from June 2000.

Akhmad Kadyrov was killed following an explosion underneath the VIP seating of the Dinamo football stadium at a mid-morning Soviet Union Day parade in the capital city of Grozny. An inner circle of Chechen guerrillas was believed to be responsible.

Ramzan Kadyrov’s appointment, made before Dimitry Medvedev’s presidency started in May 2008, was seen as a strategy to control and stabilise the region. Medvedev’s reappointment of Kadyrov in the 2011 presidency demonstrated consistency in Kremlin/Chechnya relations. This highlights one area of Putin’s approach to managing his circle and maintaining control over the Russian Federation’s complex ethnic network.

As Putin’s trusted allies age, vulnerabilities within his inner circle have begun to emerge. Notable figures such as Nikolai Patrushev, 72, and Alexander Bortnikov, 70, among others, represent a generation whose time may be expiring. The pressures of governance and the physical demands of their roles have not gone unnoticed, which has raised questions about succession and the stability of Putin’s administration.

The potential for domestic unrest is not just to be found in the Kremlin. Regional issues in places like Chechnya, Kazakhstan and Belarus could serve as hotspots for broader conflict. These areas are fraught with their own geopolitically motivated tensions and could provoke challenges to central authority if local leaders suspect weakness in Moscow.

Financial constraints further complicate Putin’s ability to manage his stronghold. With resources stretched thin, the reliance on financial incentives to secure loyalty is becoming increasingly untenable. This is highlighted by incidents such as Moscow’s Mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, lobbying for additional funds following a terrorist attack, citing the risk of increased jihadist sentiment if needs are ignored.

The state of affairs is a reminder of the precarious nature of power in Russian politics. The aging band of leaders, the strain on resources and regional instabilities might converge to catalyse significant changes. Observers and insiders alike might wonder about the sustainability of this system and who might emerge as the next leader.

The pressure that Putin and his cohorts have to endure is immense and mounting daily. How long can the existing administration withstand these pressures before somebody turns and like a House of Cards, it all comes tumbling down.

Then consider that the choice of who to select as new leader is limited indeed. Who would want this poisoned chalice anyway?

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