Putin’s personal approval rating, according to polling firm Levada, remains at a 67 percent majority, but that number has dipped sharply from as recently as April when 82 percent of Russians said they approved of the president’s work.
Putin won his latest six-year term in March, ensuring his grip on power will last until the next set of elections in 2024. But Russia’s economy remains in low gear, expanding at a rate of around 2.5 percent.
It is this slow growth and an increasing lack of political control that has led McDowell to suggest that the Kremlin’s influence over the vast country could be on the wane. The analyst further suggested that Putin’s “vertical of power,” where there is a direct chain of command down to regional governors, will soon no longer be viable.
McDowell said that while a truly federal Russia looks improbable any time soon, it is easy to imagine more power being spread to political and business networks based in Siberia and the Far East, where they can be independently funded by oil and minerals.
“If the regions can muster the strength to force a new deal with the center, then we can ask what their priorities are after that and how competent they can be in fulfilling them,” he said, before adding: “Those are questions that are difficult to answer right now, but it is a possible future.”
McDowell said in a September note that should Putin’s power dwindle within Russia, then the “investing and operating environment will become increasingly fragmented across different regions.”
The analyst said that those investors seeking to do business in the country would need to look beyond the Kremlin and forge new relationships with regional elites and governors.
On Putin’s eventual succession, McDowell said it was intentional that there was no obvious candidate at this stage who might disrupt his image as the only man for the job.
“Even when we talk about potential candidates, we are still in the very early stages. It is not like (Barack) Obama in 2005 when you could say, ‘Oh, that’s a guy who might be able to do it.’ Nobody has set out their stalls.”