Vladimir Putin was sworn in for another six-year term as Russian president, his fourth, buoyed by popular support but weighed down by the ongoing confrontation with the West, a fragile economy and uncertainty about what happens when his term ends.
As described by ABC, standing in the ornately-decorated Andreyevsky Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace, with his hand on a gold-embossed copy of the constitution, Putin swore to serve the Russian people, to safeguard rights and freedoms, and protect Russian sovereignty.
Putin’s inauguration for a fourth term as Russian President followed two months after more than 70% of voters backed him in an election in which he had no serious challengers. Putin’s most dangerous opponent, Alexei Navalny, was barred from running and on Saturday Navalny, together with hundreds of supporters, was again detained by police while protesting against Putin’s new term.
In a speech after the swearing-in ceremony, Putin said that in the next six years Russia would prove a “strong, muscular player on the world stage, backed by a powerful military”, while pushing hard to improve life for its citizens at home.
“Taking up this post, I feel a colossal sense of responsibility,” Putin told his audience of Russian officials and foreign dignitaries, among them former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder…
… and, yes, Steven Seagal was also spotted.
As ABC notes, for the brief trip from his office to the inauguration ceremony, Putin travelled in a new Russian-made limousine; according to Russian TV, the limousine will replace the fleet of imported vehicles Putin uses, state television reported.
With Putin sworn in, immediate attention turns to whom Putin will nominate as his prime minister.
If he asks the current holder of the post, his loyal lieutenant Dmitry Medvedev, to stay on, that will signal continuity. If he chooses someone new, that could presage a fresh approach on policy and will also trigger speculation that Mr Putin is grooming a successor.
As a reminder, once this term ends in 2024, the constitution bars him from running again, although as recent events in China showed, where Xi Jinping changed the constitution to make himself eligible to rule for ever, that will hardly be a major hurdle.
What happens next?
It is unlikely that Russia’s tense standoffs with the West that have dominated the past four years will ease during Putin’s new term, especially since any hopes for a detente with the US have been dashed as Trump scrambles to prove every day to Mueller that he is not a Putin puppet. In fact, clashes in the past few weeks over US sanctions on Russia, the conflict in Syria, and the poisoning in England of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal have left some diplomats worried that the confrontation could spiral out of control.
Meanwhile, opinion polls show Putin has high levels of support among Russian citizens, while his chief opponent, Navalny, has not been able to inspire a nationwide upsurge of protests. But the Russian economy remains a potential weakness for Putin.
Buffeted by lower oil prices, falls in the rouble, inflation and the impact of sanctions, average monthly wages have fallen from the equivalent of $867 ($1,154) in 2013 to $736 last year.
Which means that just like Saudi Arabia, the biggest variable for Putin will be the price of oil; the higher the better.
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Fast forward to 2024, when absent major shocks, there is little clarity what happens next: then Mr Putin will be 71.
In the meantime, Putin is set to become the longest-serving Russian ruler; soon he will have ruled longer than Soviet Communist leader Leonid Brezhnev, whose 18-year rule from 1964 to 1982 was primarily associated with stagnation. Among the possible options include Putin leaving the Kremlin but continuing to run the country from another post, or bowing out of public life and handing over to an anointed successor.
Putin’s full inauguration below
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