Vladimir Putin was already Russia’s longest-serving ruler since Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin when he won his fourth term as President Sunday.
His win cements his stature as the strongman who made Russia great again, but it also sets the stage for a crisis: Who will lead Russia next?
Putin is constitutionally obliged to stand down in 2024, when he will have served two consecutive terms, but the 65-year-old veteran leader has not groomed a successor, prompting speculation that he may seek ways to extend his rule beyond 2024.
“Now the question is what kind of course he will choose in the future,” Vygaudas Ušackas, a former foreign minister of Lithuania and an observer of Russian politics, told CNN before the vote.
“That’s a big gamble. I don’t think even he knows himself.”
Putin’s win was a foregone conclusion, with approval ratings consistently above 80%, no serious opponent and tight control over the media.
Even the leader himself appeared bored during the lackluster campaign period. He only briefly attended a massive campaign rally in his name, where he promised Russian “victories” for decades to come, as high-profile celebrities and athletes gave him their glowing endorsements.