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Putin Starts New Term After Protests, Amid Tension With West


Vladimir Putin (center) is sworn as Russian president during a ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow on May 7.

Vladimir Putin has been sworn in to a new six-year term as Russian president, vowing to "serve the people" and improve their lives while protecting what he called a country of "great victories and feats."

Putin took the oath of office in a midday ceremony in an ornate Kremlin hall on May 7, with his right hand on a red-bound copy of the Russian Constitution.

Putin, 65, has president or prime minister since 1999 and just finished the term that he began in 2012 after a four-year stint as prime minister.

In remarks after taking the oath, Putin called for a "breakthrough" that would bolster the Russian economy and improve living standards.

"As head of state, I will do everything in my power to increase the might, prosperity, and glory of Russia," Putin said, calling it a country of "great victories and feats" that has repeatedly overcome hardships and emerged stronger over the centuries.

Focusing mainly on domestic issues, Putin urged Russians to unite to face down "new challenges." He said Russia will continue to strengthen its military capability.

After the address, he descended from the podium and greeted members of the audience, including Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, and former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

He then reviewed an honor guard and spoke to young people lined up in a Kremlin square, taking photographs with a few.

Putin takes the oath of office on a copy of the Russian Constitution.
Putin takes the oath of office on a copy of the Russian Constitution.

Putin was reelected by a landslide on March 18, in a vote that has called a demonstration of public trust but critics say was marred by fraud and what international observers said was the lack of a genuine choice.

The inauguration comes two days after police detained some 1,600 people, including opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, at protests in dozens of cities where demonstrators came out to voice dismay at Putin's long rule and the prospect of six more years.

The approach to the ceremony was less elaborate than in 2012, when opponents said his motorcade rode down deserted central streets while protesters were kept away underscored a gulf between Putin and the people.

This time state TV showed Putin, in a dark suit, walking out of his office in one Kremlin building and riding in a limousine to the Grand Kremlin Palace nearby for the ceremony.

Inside, large crowds of guests lined his path along a red carpet to the podium, and the event appeared carefully designed to portray Putin as a hardworking man of the people rather than a haughty tsar.

Putin will be barred from seeking reelection in 2024 because the constitution limits presidents to two consecutive terms.

The crackdown set a stark tone for Putin’s new term, which begins as Moscow remains locked in a geopolitical standoff with the West over a range of issues, including Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea, backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine, alleged meddling in U.S. elections, and support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Putin has spelled out a raft of domestic goals for his new term, including slashing Russia’s poverty rate, modernizing infrastructure, boosting health care and life expectancy, and a technological drive to transform the economy and improve living standards.

Whether he will be able to implement these ambitious plans remains to be seen. A Bloomberg analysis found that Putin largely fell short of the numerous pledges he delivered at the beginning of his third term in 2012.

Under the constitution, the start of a new presidential term triggered the resignation of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's government, and Putin is expected to make a nominate a premier soon -- possibly on May 7.

Putin could choose to signal continuity by reappointing Medvedev, a loyal ally who was president when he stepped aside in 2008-12 due to term limits, or could name someone new.

Russia is still battling with the impact of Western sanctions over its role in the Ukraine conflict and alleged interference in U.S. politics, though its economy has righted itself somewhat due in part to recovering oil prices.

“All indications are that [Russia’s] economic performance will be mediocre at best in the coming years. A context of ‘neostagnation’ is anticipated,” Andrew Wood, a former British ambassador to Russia, wrote in a recent report for the think tank Chatham House.

Putin’s 2012 inauguration came one day after street clashes between demonstrators and riot police in Moscow led to the arrest and ultimate prosecution of more than 20 opposition activists protesting Putin’s return to the Kremlin.

Putin became acting president on the last day of 1999 and -- if his stint as prime minister in 2008-2012 is counted -- is Moscow's longest-ruling leader since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

He was reelected in the March 18 vote with 76.69 percent of ballots cast, according to official results -- more than he received in 2000, 2004, and 2012, and the highest percentage secured by any post-Soviet Russian leader.

While there were reports of ballot-stuffing and other irregularities in the election -- including the possible addition of 10 million faked votes -- they are not seen as having tipped the poll in Putin’s favor. His opponents say the Kremlin’s tight control over the political landscape and a servile state-media machine ensured his victory before a single ballot was cast, and international observers said voters were not given a genuine choice.

Russians’ trust in Putin has dipped since the election, however, according to state pollster VTsIOM.

It fell from a high of 58.9 percent on January 21 to 47.1 percent on April 22, according to the pollster.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Russian Service, AP, Bloomberg, Interfax, Gazeta.ru, Dozhd TV, TASS, and The Moscow Times

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