In recent years, several rumors have circulated about the Russian leader’s health. Thyroid cancer, Parkinson’s disease, leprosy or deterioration in health after a stroke are some of the unproven conditions that have been speculated.
In fact, just this week, the Kremlin was forced to deny rumors that Vladimir Putin had suffered cardiac arrest in his room, months after they had to deny that he had suffered from incontinence.
Since taking the reins of power in 1999, Putin has established himself as one of the most infamous politicians in modern history, achieving stranglehold on Russia.
While his current term will end next year, sweeping changes to the constitution implemented in 2020 could mean he rules Russia until 2036.
However, since the invasion of Ukraine, a war in which Russia has lost tens of thousands of its troops, cracks have begun to appear in its 20-year leadership. There has also been speculation that the aging tyrant’s health is declining. The truth is that his death would leave the future political situation in Russia extremely uncertain.
In June, he faced the biggest threat to his grip on power, after his former ally Yevgeny Prigozhin organized an armed rebellion and called on his forces to march on Moscow to overthrow Russia’s military command.
Once known as “Putin’s chef,” Prigozhin was influential after the invasion of Ukraine as owner of the private military company Wagner. His growing criticism of the military leadership made him a credible threat to Putin’s regime, and the dictator promised harsh consequences for his “betrayal.”
Just two months after the suppressed mutiny, Prigozhin died under mysterious circumstances aboard a plane flying from Moscow to St. Petersburg.
While this dramatic opposition to the Russian government was quickly dismissed, it raised questions about the future of the country’s leadership and who is in line to replace the authoritarian leader.
Unlike other dictators throughout history, Putin’s family is not in the running to replace him, and not many details are known about his relationship with the president.
Although Putin is known for being secretive about his private life, his 30-year marriage to stewardess Lyudmila Shkrebneva is known to have ended in divorce in 2013 amid speculation about his extramarital affair with retired gymnast Alina Kabaeva.
While it is unknown how many children he has had since the breakdown of his marriage, he had two daughters with Shkrebneva: Maria Vorontsova, 36, and Katerina Tikhonova, 35. Neither is involved in politics.
For his part, the Russian president refuses to name his grandchildren in public and told a journalist: “The point is that I don’t want them to grow up like royal princes, I want them to grow up and be normal people.”
During one of his unusual personal interviews in 2015, he spoke about his daughters: “My daughters live in Russia and studied only in Russia, I am proud of them,” he said. “They speak three foreign languages fluently. “I never talk about my family with anyone.”
If Putin were to die or resign abruptly, the Russian Federation Council would have 14 days to call an early presidential election. In the event that the Council does not meet this requirement, the Central Election Commission would call the elections and Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin would act as alternate president in the meantime.
However, some believe it is unlikely that he will occupy the position permanently, given his lack of popularity among Putin’s circle of “pelotilleros”.
According to the BBC, Mishustin had the “unenviable task of rescuing the economy, but he is not very decisive” in the war between Russia and Ukraine, and sources close to the Kremlin allege that he was unaware of Putin’s intentions for a full-scale invasion.
In statements to The Independent, Russia specialist Dr. Mark Galeotti observed: “Under the constitution, if he took over when the president died or was incapacitated, he would be the incumbent. It is a technocratic choice par excellence. It seems viable to me, but there are other candidates who would cover the same requirements.”
Dmitry Medvedev, known as one of Putin’s closest allies, has been considered one of his possible successors. He had previously served as president from 2008 to 2012, before resigning in what was later revealed to be a pre-arranged agreement.
Once regarded by the West as a moderate voice within the Kremlin, he has earned a reputation as Putin’s bad cop, referring to Ukrainians as “cockroaches” and making increasingly bellicose threats involving nuclear weapons.
The former law professor served as prime minister from 2012 to 2020, before becoming vice president of the Russian Security Council.
However, over the years, his subordinate role under Putin’s rule is believed to have weakened his own ability to consolidate power among the Russian elite.
Other names mentioned to take the helm include Sergeuei Kiriyenko, who has served as first deputy chief of staff since 2016 and is known to be a member of Putin’s inner circle.
Given his involvement in the recent incorporation of Ukrainian territories, he is understood to have daily access to the president and maintains good relations with all major key players in the Russian political elite.
However, Dr. Galeotti rules out the possibility of him ever occupying a prominent place in Russian politics, saying he is more useful as a “behind the scenes” strategist.
Given Ukraine’s humiliating war record, Sergei Shoigu is unlikely to be announced as Putin’s successor, despite his position as one of Russia’s most influential men. The defense minister had once been voted the most popular politician after Putin, and he is known to be close to the secretive leader and they often spend summer holidays together.
“Before the invasion, I would have said Shoigu without a doubt, but now his reputation has been tarnished by the invasion,” Dr. Galeotti said.
“He still commands relatively high levels of public support and trust, and is an astute politician behind the scenes. He may no longer have a chance of becoming president, but as a shadow power, he could still be very influential.”
Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council, has known Putin since they worked together in the KGB and was a key strategist in the 2014 and 2022 invasions of Ukraine.
The 71-year-old is reportedly “one of the few figures Putin listens to”, while his son Dmitry is also rumored to be a possible successor to Putin given his position as Agriculture Minister.
Other suggestions have included Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, former bodyguard Alexei Dyumin and Chief of Staff Dmitry Kozak.
“It will have to be someone who can create a coalition, who is an acceptable candidate for both the technocrats and the security elite,” Dr. Galeotti said. “Precisely because of the need to build a coalition, it is very likely that he will not be one of the main contenders.”
“I think the Russian system will deal with the crisis quite quickly and we will see the next political elite trying to end the war in Ukraine and the confrontation with the West. “It is very likely that Putin will become the scapegoat for everything that happened.”
Translation of Michelle Padilla