(Forbes) – For the last three months, rumors within Russia media circles have been circulating that Vladimir Putin might not run for president next year. He has yet to make an announcement of his candidacy. And now the Independent newspaper out of London has taken those rumors live. The cat is now out of the bag.
The takeaway: no matter if Putin wins, this is his last turn as President. In six years, at the latest, Russia will be without their longest running president since the days of the Soviet Union.
Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Kremlin advisor and head of the Effective Politics Foundation, told The Independent’s Oliver Carroll that the Putin era has entered a “terminal” phase. “Whichever way you play it, this campaign is about transitioning to a post-Putin Russia,” he told the paper.
Like all things politics, Carroll had to rely on Wall Street’s version of the “whisper numbers” regarding Putin’s desire to run again. The article may ultimately get an answer from Team Putin as to his 2018 election plans. If he runs, everybody knows he is a shoo-in. There is no effective opposition. Even Western darling Alexei Navalny barely polls at 10% and has almost no support in the Rusian parliament. His Progress Party has precisely zero seats.
One of the only real challengers to the United Russia party of Putin are the communists and the ultra-nationalist, ironically named Liberal Democrats, run by Vladimir Zhirinovsky. He would make Putin look like George W. Bush to those who have no love for Donald Trump.
The Communist Party is run by Gennady Andreyevich Zyugano. He garnered 17% of the vote in 2012, the only contender to Putin. Some argue that he is the only contender allowed to run. Others believe that even if Navalny was allowed to run for the presidency despite having no political presence in either house of Congress, that the anti-Russia rhetoric coming from the U.S. would persist. In other words, a Putin exit is by no means a white flag waving high above the Kremlin for Washington to see.
Putin is surely expected to win if he runs again. It will be a landslide, with at least 60% voting for him. Most Russians approve of him as a strong leader in the face of relentless Western ridicule and are somewhat willing to overlook the decades of corruption that have plagued Russia since it built an entirely new political and economic system after the fall of the U.S.S.R. in 1991. Transparency International still ranks Russia on par with former Soviet partners Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Russia is considered the most corrupt of the BRICS countries.
Putin would have served as Europe’s longest term chief executive, second only to Angela Merkel of Germany. By comparison, Putin enjoys much more support.
One of the rumors tossed around by Moscow-based reporters is that Putin will not run, giving himself a fourth and final shot four years from now, should the new leader face a public backlash or take the country in a different direction. What direction is unclear, though one hunch is that if a new leader were to kowtow to Brussels or Washington, Putin loyalists, or Putin himself, could come back for the last encore. If Russia is one thing it is fiercely independent.
Putin’s former Finance Minister, Alexei Kudrin, doubts Putin stands down in 2018. “The odds of Putin not running for office are small,” Kudrin told a gathering of investors at a Moscow Stock Exchange conference in New York in September.
According to The Independent’s off-record sources and observations, Putin has just about had it. The 65-year-old is supposedly reluctant to engage in another grueling national election. Any new campaign would be reduced to a bare minimum and nothing like the 2011-2012 elections where United Russia declared Putin’s candidacy six months early.
Russia’s elections are in March.