The question of Russian President Vladimir Putin's eventual replacement is a critical matter both for Russia and for the United States. Recent constitutional changes have given Putin more flexibility in mapping his succession. He can now run for reelection two additional times and can stay in power until 2036 if he wishes. There are several other methods through which Putin can keep control of power while still trying to preserve his legacy. Russian elite rivalries, the security services, economic policy, public satisfaction levels, and other factors will all affect the selection of Putin's successor. Whatever Putin decides, U.S. officials should prepare for the upcoming succession by sending clear signals on policy redlines and closely studying elite attitudes. The U.S. relationship will likely be competitive, if not adversarial, for some time to come, but a patient, careful approach will permit the United States to manage a succession transition and create the basis for the improvement of bilateral relations with any successor.
This research was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).
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