VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
WRITTEN BY: Don Ekama
When Putin goes, Russia could be in big trouble. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we're counting down our picks for the most likely scenarios that could potentially play out should Vladimir Putin die in office. Our countdown of things that could happen if Vladimir Putin dies includes The Russian Military Will Be Placed on High Alert, Nikolai Patrushev Could Take Over, An Intense Power Tussle, and more!
Top 10 Things That Could Happen if Vladimir Putin Dies
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the most likely scenarios that could potentially play out should Vladimir Putin die in office.
#10: Russia Could Collapse Into New States
Following a period of economic stagnation and political tension, the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, resulting in the independence of 15 states, including Russia and Ukraine. In the event of Vladimir Putin’s death, Russia could experience a similar scenario due to the loss of its central figure. Russia is currently made up of dozens of regions, some of which are federal territories and autonomous areas. Putin’s departure could potentially lead to increased internal tensions, prompting some of these regions to seek greater autonomy or even independence. Given Russia’s historical response to separatist movements, such secession will likely not occur peacefully. Instead, it could end in a devastating civil war potentially claiming thousands, if not millions, of lives.
#9: The Possibility of a Liberal Russian Government
As Putin’s long-standing rule continues, many wonder how possible it would be to have a strikingly different leader succeed him. According to some experts, the chances of a liberal, reform-minded government taking the reins largely depends on the timing of Putin’s departure. Currently, his conservative regime enjoys considerable popularity among Russians, so a successor will likely keep things the same way. If it ain’t broke, right? However, with the war gradually worsening Russia’s economic situation, public opinion could change drastically in, say, four or five years. If Putin’s death coincides with this shift, the opposition might seize the opportunity to install a more reformist president. However, the extent of such a president’s power remains a subject of debate.
#8: The Russian Military Will Be Placed on High Alert
It is not news that Vladimir Putin’s grip on Russia has significantly strained relations with the West. Given how central a figure he is to the country, Putin’s death would create a leadership vacuum that many of these foreign powers might seek to exploit. As such, in the event of Putin’s demise, the Russian military will likely be placed on high alert, not only to maintain stability in the country, but also to deter any potential external threats. However, with these forces already grossly occupied with the war in Ukraine, if Putin passes away, certain vulnerable areas could remain exposed due to their resources being stretched thin.
#7: The Russia-Ukraine War Could Be Dismissed
As the conflict in Ukraine persists longer than anticipated, many wonder if the war would outlast Putin or vice versa. In the former scenario, it’s likely that Putin’s successor could put an end to the tense situation. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, speaking with David Letterman, emphasized that Putin consolidates so much power in today’s Russia that his demise could lead to significant institutional disruptions. Amid such internal tensions, Russia would likely not have the time or resources to deal with foreign matters. Hence, the war could be dismissed altogether. However, the situation remains complex. With the many underlying historical and territorial issues, there is no guarantee that Putin’s death would lead to a successful conflict resolution.
#6: The Elites Could Impose Their Choice
Putin’s demise could potentially present two distinct outcomes for the future of Russia and its people. First, if the President designates his successor beforehand and outlines the installment process for that individual, there would be less maneuvering room for high-ranking officials and elites to impose their choice. Conversely, in the event that Putin’s death is sudden and there is no known successor, the elites could exploit such a power vacuum to appoint an individual who is aligned with their own interests. Again, if this happens in the current climate, when Putin enjoys significant popularity among his people, the subsequent government could be equally, or even more radical than what exists under him.
#5: Nikolai Patrushev Could Take Over
Russia’s constitution stipulates that in the event of a President’s death or removal from office, the Prime Minister takes over as acting president. We’ll discuss more on that in a bit. However, one of the most likely successors isn’t the current Prime Minister. Instead, it is Putin’s close confidant and intelligence officer Nikolai Patrushev. Since 2008, Patrushev has served as secretary of the Security Council of Russia and is said to have greatly influenced Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine. He also belongs to the siloviki, Putin’s military circle, from which some experts believe his successor will come. If Patrushev takes over, his leadership would likely mirror Putin’s, as both men share similar ideologies and an aversion for the West.
#4: Vladimir Putin’s Constitutional Successor
As earlier mentioned, the Russian constitution dictates that if a leader is removed from office, the Prime Minister steps in as acting president. This is precisely how Putin assumed power in 1999, following former President Boris Yeltsin’s resignation. However, this provision only allows the acting president to hold the role temporarily until elections are conducted to choose a leader. The current Prime Minister is Mikhail Mishustin. While technically next in line, Mishustin is not seen as a permanent replacement for Putin, as he isn’t considered to be close enough to him. It is therefore likely that in the event of Putin’s death, Mishustin would only serve as acting president long enough for a more formidable candidate to be elected.
#3: Fresh Elections
If Vladimir Putin passes away today, there is no doubt that the Russian political landscape would likely experience a period of uncertainty and tension. The solution proffered by the constitution is simple: the Russian Federation Council has 14 days to declare fresh elections for a new president. These elections must be carried out within three months after the former president’s removal from office. If, for some reason, the Federation Council is unable to do so, then the responsibility falls to the Central Election Commission, which oversees both federal and local elections. Given Russia’s current political climate, a candidate closely aligned with Putin’s policies and the conservative United Russia party, might have the upper hand.
#2: An Intense Power Tussle
In 2017, acclaimed writer-director Armando Iannucci released the political satire “The Death of Stalin,” which depicted a power tussle among Soviet officials after Joseph Stalin’s demise. While the film was praised elsewhere, it was banned in Russia, likely due to its uncomfortable parallels. According to some experts, if Putin dies, Russia could experience a real-life “Death of Stalin” scenario. In the 90 days before presidential elections are conducted, an intense power struggle could unfold among influential figures within the Kremlin, the military and the business elite. Due to Russia’s centralization around Putin, a smooth transition between governments may not be likely. As such, the country might expect some level of factional infighting, if he dies in office.
#1: Russia Will Likely Descend Into Chaos
Having ruled Russia with a firm hand for over two decades and consolidated immense power, Putin’s eventual passing would wield profound consequences for the country. As earlier mentioned, his death could trigger political instability and power struggles, which may eventually lead to civil unrest. This turmoil could stem from several factors, including the lack of a clear successor and the absence of any framework for a subsequent government to operate on. Moreover, the influence of military commanders potentially vying for leadership could further complicate the situation. While Russia has weathered multiple leadership transitions in the past, both during and after the Soviet Union, it seems this one may pose an extraordinary challenge for the country.
What do YOU think is most likely to happen if Putin passes away? Share your predictions in the comments below.