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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Inconsistent Succession

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Trying to guess the identity of President Vladimir Putin's choice as his successor and how he or she will come to power is a game that just continues to grow in popularity. Speculation is also swirling over whether the next president will use the system Putin has created to determine national and international policy, ditch the system altogether, or keep parts of it.

Analysts at Renaissance Capital, for example, believe the successor will either follow the "Brezhnev model" and try to maintain the status quo, or will be a reformer, following what they label the "Peter the Great model." These comparisons are a bit surprising, but not because of the nature of historical parallels.

The approaching transfer of power is only partially reminiscent of the procedure by which the successor was named in imperial Russia or chosen in the higher councils of the Communist Party during the Soviet period. A true case of continuity being maintained in domestic and foreign policy as power passes from father to son is really only evident in Kievan Rus and Muscovy. Vladimir Monomakh's son Mstislav, for example, was a faithful guardian of his father's policies after his death in 1125.

The closer we come to the modern era, however, the fewer the examples of a smooth conversion of the political system from one leader to the next. The comparison to Peter the Great, for example, is not an apt one. Peter carried out his own reforms by liquidating the institutions that he had inherited from his father, Alexei. He got rid of the Boyar Duma and the Streltsy and voided many of his father's orders. He changed the entire system, along with the whole character of the country and its people, in the process stamping out the shoots that had grown out of the reforms begun under his brother, Fyodor.

Peter himself broke the line of succession by eliminating his own son. Thereafter, successors to the throne, regardless of their oaths of loyalty to their predecessor's policies or conditions attached to their assumption of power, introduced significant policy changes and reformed institutions to reflect those changes. Favorites under the previous rulers were eased out of authority and often ended up being tried or banished. New favorites then moved in to take their places.

This lack of consistency in policy as power passed from one ruler to another was particularly evident in the second half of the 18th century and into the 19th. Just look at the zigzags in domestic and foreign policy that accompanied the handing down of power along the chain beginning with Catherine the Great and running right up to Alexander III.

Nicholas II tried to break the trend, but in an attempt to save the traditions of monarchy inherited from his father, Alexander III, he was forced to allow for the creation of a parliament and the limitation of his power after the revolution of 1905.

The idea of consistency of policy being maintained by successors didn't fare much better in Soviet times, and Brezhnev is no exception. He came to power by overthrowing his predecessor, in keeping with the tradition of palace coups in the mid-18th century.

There are better historical parallels for the current succession in the first century in the Roman Empire, when emperors with little faith in the abilities of their own offspring would hand power over either to more distant relatives or to high-profile figures already working within the state, like consuls or senators. They would often adopt their successors so that the principle of succession through the male line of the family would at least formally be maintained.

The process of grooming a successor was often an extended one. Emperor Trajan, for example, watched over his younger cousin, Hadrian, for almost 30 years. The succession was consolidated by Hadrian's marriage to Trajan's granddaughter in 100 A.D. With Trajan's death in 118, Hadrian was called from Syria, where he was serving as governor, to Rome for his coronation.

Hadrian, in turn, adopted Antoninus Pius not long before his own death in 138. Hadrian managed to set the course of succession even further ahead. When he adopted Antoninus Pius, he also committed him to adopting Marcus Aurelius, who reigned from 161 to 180.

There is, of course, the idea of Moscow as the third Rome. If that really is the case, then it would make sense to try to recreate for ourselves the conditions of that era.

This appeared as an editorial in Vedomosti.