The third scenario, we might call Putin Forever or, more accurately, Putin for Life. Unlike the old soldiers that Gen. Douglas MacArthur memorialized, autocrats don’t often “just fade away.” Putin could seek to amend the constitution to permit more than two consecutive six-year terms. This would be controversial, but he could probably get away with it if he maintains his current dominance of the parliament, the party system, the economy and the media — and assuming his opposition remains in the fragmented state we see today.
This is too far into the future to confidently foresee what it would mean for U.S.-Russia relations, but it’s a fair bet that in both of the latter scenarios, Putin would continue to pursue his three central goals: maintenance of domestic power, dominant Russian influence in the regions immediately adjacent and projection of Russian power into key global regions. If Putin failed to retain power or simply followed the constitution and stepped aside, any successor would be tempted to embrace the same strategy, given its resonance with the public and with long Russian tradition.