Vladimir Putin has been sworn in for a fourth presidential term in a lavish Kremlin ceremony as tensions with the west rise and domestic discontent over poverty and wealth inequality simmers.
State television began its live coverage of the inauguration on Monday with Putin, 65, apparently hard at work in his Kremlin office. He then walked down a long, red-carpeted corridor to a black limousine that whisked him to the nearby Grand Kremlin Palace, the former throne room of Russia’s tsars.
Putin was applauded by about 5,000 guests as he entered the palace’s ornately decorated Andreyevsky Hall through colossal doors flanked by Kremlin guards. Among the guests were Gerhard Schröder, the former German chancellor, Steven Seagal, the former Hollywood action star who has become close to Russia’s political elite, and Alexander Zaldostanov, the leather-clad, tattooed leader of a pro-Putin motorcycle club.
With his hand on a gold-embossed copy of the Russian constitution, Putin swore to serve the Russian people faithfully. He also hailed Moscow’s ability to stand up for it interests in the international arena, and what he called Russia’s traditional values.
Despite the pomp, the ceremony was relatively low key compared with Putin’s return to the Kremlin in 2012, when his black motorcade sped through deserted streets that had been cleared of residents by heavy-handed security forces. A Kremlin banquet to mark the inauguration was reportedly scrapped over fears it would lead to public criticism.
Barring a change to the constitution, Putin’s fourth term is likely to be his last as president. He recently laughed off suggestions that he could return to the Kremlin in 2030, when he will be eligible to stand again. Government officials have not discussed the issue of his successor publicly, and analysts say the issue is taboo within the Kremlin walls.
Shortly after the inauguration, Putin put Dmitry Medvedev forward to continue as prime minister, a position he has held since 2012. Allegations of high-level corruption against Medvedev, 52, triggered large opposition protests last year, and 57% of Russians said they were dissatisfied with his work as prime minister in a recent opinion poll. Some analysts suggest Putin’s continued support for Medvedev is due to his usefulness as a scapegoat for economic failures.
Since his last inauguration six years ago, Putin has seized Crimea from Ukraine, triggering western economic sanctions, and ordered Russia’s military into Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad.