March 21, 2019 - 12:26 AMT
Bloomberg. Putin could hold grip on Russia by uniting with Belarus

Some within the ruling elite in Russia are pressing President Vladimir Putin to remain president for as long as possible, three people close to the Kremlin said, asking not to identified discussing internal matters. Options being explored include pressing neighboring Belarus into uniting with Russia to create a new state so that Putin can sidestep constitutional term limits. There’s no agreed scenario for a transition, the people said, according to Bloomberg.

Even so, “Putin can’t stay on forever - he’s mortal,” said Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a sociologist who studies Russia’s ruling elite at the State University of Administration in Moscow “If he doesn’t prepare the ground for succession it will end badly. Everyone will be at each other’s throats.”

Putin already once engineered a handover of the presidency to his protege Dmitry Medvedev to comply with the constitutional ban on more than two consecutive terms. Medvedev was president from 2008-2012 and Putin took over his role as prime minister, continuing to run the country until he returned to the Kremlin after four years.

This time, Putin could transfer key presidential powers to the security council or an advisory body called the State Council, both of which he heads now, then use them to exercise influence once he leaves the Kremlin, according to political analysts in Moscow.

Still, there are doubts whether Russia’s feuding elites would continue to respect Putin’s authority if he handed the presidency to someone else, said Sergei Markov, a political consultant to the Kremlin.

Resistance in Belarus to being absorbed by Russia also makes it hard for the Kremlin to pursue the option of Putin leading a new state, said Kryshtanovskaya.