Vasiliy Zharkov

Historian, PhD Visiting Lecturer at
the European Humanitarian University (Vilnius, Lithuania)

Nikolay Petrov

Political scientist, political geographer

May 09, 2024
The Transition Project: Scenarios for Democratic Transition

Under what circumstances could the collapse of Putin’s regime occur, what will replace it, and under what conditions is a turn to democracy possible?

The first scenario is a popular uprising: people take to the streets, clashes with the police begin, the police fail, power is seized and the current elites are displaced. As of spring 2024, the probability of such a scenario is very low. Most of the near-liberal opposition organizations are currently banned in the Russian Federation, and their leaders have been pushed into the opposition. If there is an uprising in Russia, it is more likely to take place under radical left-wing or far-right slogans, similar to the rebellion of Yevgeniy Prigozhin in June 2023. It is very likely that the weakening of the central government as a result of such an uprising will lead to the strengthening and coming to the fore of regional elites and leaders, who, similar to the 1990s, will seek autarchy. If there is no convincing leader and force in the capital capable of uniting the country on new grounds, the strengthening of separatism is inevitable, at least in a significant part of the Russian regions.

The second scenario is a coup d’état or the sudden death of a dictator as a result of poorly verifiable causes. The impetus for such a coup could be the growing yearning in the elites for “Putinism without Putin”. Today’s Russia is undergoing forced demodernization, which is manifested in the systematic and cynical violation of law, the constant fomentation of the darkest ideas in the public space, and the decline of the urban educated class. This demoralizes a significant part of the elites, not to mention frustrating the relatively small educated stratum of society. The feeling of discomfort and threats to the established order create preconditions for a “reverse rebound” — a desire to develop in a different way. This scenario assumes gradual liberalization by analogy with the transition to “collective leadership” in the 1950s, the condemnation of the “cult of personality” and the release of political prisoners.

The third scenario can be described as a “baobab effect” — Putin’s outwardly stable system collapses under its own weight, as it is corroded inside by corruption and the moral decay of civil servants.

Can the scenarios be combined with each other, and what is needed so that a turn towards democratization can be realized in each of them? We continue to publish chapters of The Transition Project, a step-by-step expert guide to democratic transformations in Russia after the change of power.

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