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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Experts See Democracy, Murder in Crystal Ball

Russia's resurgence on the world stage and its economic growth will continue, but the country will not evolve into a full-fledged democracy in the next decade if Vladimir Putin succeeds in transferring power to his successor and oil prices stay high, a new report says.

The report -- titled "Alternative Futures for Russia to 2017" and authored by a team of Russia experts led by Andrew Kuchins of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington -- offers three scenarios for the country's development without assessing their probability. The paper was released Friday.

One scenario, called "Putinism Without Putin," envisions Putin handing over the presidency to his preferred successor -- Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Naryshkin -- in a managed election next year. First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev would become prime minister under Naryshkin, and Putin would then slide into the "political background" as Naryshkin, also a former KGB officer, consolidates power to rule for the next eight years. Naryshkin would pick a successor of his own in 2016. Political apathy would prevail among voters, and the economy would grow 4 percent or more per year.

Some current security threats, such as violence and terrorism in the North Caucasus, would increase and include the kidnapping and beheading of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, the scenario says. But cooperation with NATO and the West would limit destabilizing forces.

The second scenario, "Putinism Falls From Grace ... Democracy Rises Again," sees Putin handing the presidency to First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov. But oil prices drop in 2009, driving the budget into deficit, and Ivanov's administration lacks the means to tackle problems such as North Caucasus violence. The crisis forces Ivanov out of power, and liberals Boris Nemtsov and Grigory Yavlinsky come out on top in 2016 elections with bids partly financed by tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Nemtsov becomes president and embarks on reforms that revive the economy and restore democracy.

The third scenario sees Putin assassinated on the steps of Christ the Savior Cathedral on Jan. 7 and subsequent turmoil quelled by the authoritarian rule of Vladimir Yakunin, the former KGB officer who heads Russian Railways.

This scenario caused a furor when reported in Kommersant on Thursday, and Kuchins dismissed the article as "one of the most irresponsible pieces of journalism." Kommersant editor Andrei Vasilyev blamed poor translation of Kuchins' report for the hubbub. Despite the clarifications, several Russian newspapers followed Kommersant's lead, and the Tvoi Den tabloid even ran an angry editorial criticizing Kuchins on Friday.

The paper does not assess the probability of the three scenarios, but it does have several points in the introduction that are embraced by its authors, who include economist Anders ?slund and Thomas Graham, former adviser to the U.S. president on Russia. The authors believe that the succession by Putin's designated heir is "manageable" next year but that the overall political future is "far more uncertain" in the next decade due to the weakness of state institutions. As for the economy, they say the near-term future looks bright and that the economy is too diversified to be described as a "petrostate."