We see Putin's next surprise move as domestic rather than geopolitical, with the primary objective of further consolidating his power internally rather than projecting Russian power externally.
Since early July, we have projected both a sharp increase in elite instability surrounding the March 2018 presidential election, as well as an (almost equally sharp) increase in Putin's dominance of Russia's core political institutions. This makes us think that Putin will run — and win, resoundingly — as an "independent" in the coming election, potentially trading the less-popular United Russia party for a new (even more) personalistic party like the All-Russia People's Front (ONF).
What's next: Watch Putin carry out a purge of less loyal elites via a major cabinet reshuffle or accelerated "anti-corruption" drive, similar to what we've seen in Xi Jinping's China. He will especially target those with deeper Western links (who will be grumbling loudest about sanctions) for an added dose of geopolitical distraction.
- Evelyn Farkas, security analyst, Atlantic Council, and former U.S. assistant secretary of defense for Russia: Putin will strike Donbass
- Adrian Stones, intelligence analyst, Alaco, and former operative on Russia with MI6: Putin will try his hand at North Korea
- Peter Wilson, military historian and analyst, Rand: Putin will play possum
- Andrea Limbago, social scientist and cyber-geopolitics analyst, Endgame: Putin will double down on 'active measures'