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Vladimir Putin begins his fifth term as president of Russia


 |  Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives at a ceremony to present medals on the eve of Heroes of the Fatherland Day at St. George Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace, in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Dec. 8, 2023. (File Photo/AP)

Vladimir Putin began his fifth term Tuesday as Russian leader at a glittering Kremlin inauguration, setting out on another six years in office after destroying his political opponents, launching a devastating war in Ukraine and concentrating all power in his hands.

At the ceremony inside the gilded Grand Kremlin Palace, Putin placed his hand on the Russian Constitution and vowed to defend it as a crowd of hand-picked dignitaries looked on. “We are a united and great people and together we will overcome all obstacles, realize all our plans, together we will win,” Putin said after being sworn in.

Since succeeding President Boris Yeltsin in the waning hours of 1999, Putin has transformed Russia from a country emerging from economic collapse to a pariah state that threatens global security. Following the 2022 invasion of Ukraine that has become Europe’s biggest conflict since World War II, Russia has been heavily sanctioned by the West and is turning to other regimes like China, Iran and North Korea for support.
Already in office for nearly a quarter-century and the longest-serving Kremlin leader since Josef Stalin, Putin’s new term doesn’t expire until 2030, when he will be constitutionally eligible to run again.

In a heavily choreographed performance, Putin was pictured in his office looking at his papers before walking along the Kremlin’s long corridors, pausing at one point to look at a painting, on the way to his inauguration.
His guard of honor waited in the sleet and rain for hours, in temperatures hovering just above freezing, while Putin headed to the Grand Kremlin Palace in a car. Putin used the the first moments of his fifth term to thank the “heroes” of his war in Ukraine and to rail against the West.

Russia “does not refuse dialogue with Western states,” he said. Rather, he said, “the choice is theirs: do they intend to continue trying to contain Russia, continue the policy of aggression, continuous pressure on our country for years, or look for a path to cooperation and peace.”

The Russian leader was greeted with applause when he entered the hall with more than 2,500 people who, his spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said, had been invited to the ceremony. They included senior members of the Russian government as well as celebrities including American actor Steven Seagal.

A French diplomat confirmed the French ambassador attended the inauguration. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymously because they were not authorized to speak publicly. U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy did not attend and Russian state news agency Tass reported she was out of the country.
The question now is what the 71-year-old Putin will do over the course of another six years in the Kremlin, both at home and abroad.

Russian forces are gaining ground in Ukraine, deploying scorched-earth tactics as Kyiv grapples with shortages of men and ammunition. Both sides are taking heavy casualties.

Ukraine has brought the battle to Russian soil through drone and missile attacks, especially in border regions. In a speech in February, Putin vowed to fulfill Moscow’s goals in Ukraine, and do what is needed to “defend our sovereignty and security of our citizens.”

Shortly after his orchestrated reelection in March, Putin suggested that a confrontation between NATO and Russia is possible, and he declared he wanted to carve out a buffer zone in Ukraine to protect his country from cross-border attacks.

At home, Putin’s popularity is closely tied to improving living standards for ordinary Russians.
Putin on Tuesday once again promised Russians a prosperous future, but since the invasion of Ukraine, many have seen their cost of living go up.

Putin began his term in 2018 by promising to get Russia into the top five global economies, vowing it should be “modern and dynamic.” Instead, Russia’s economy has pivoted to a war footing, and authorities are spending record amounts on defense.

Analysts say now that Putin has secured another six years in power, the government could take the unpopular steps of raising taxes to fund the war and pressure more men to join the military.

At the start of a new term, the Russian government is routinely dissolved so that Putin can name a new prime minister and Cabinet. One key area to watch is the Defense Ministry.

Last year, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu came under pressure over his conduct of the war, with mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin launching withering criticism against him for shortages of ammunition for his private contractors fighting in Ukraine. Prigozhin’s brief uprising in June against the Defense Ministry represented the biggest threat to Putin’s rule.

After Prigozhin was killed two months later in a mysterious plane crash, Shoigu appeared to have survived the infighting. But last month, his protege, Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov, was detained on charges of bribery amid reports of rampant corruption.

Some analysts have suggested Shoigu could become a victim of the government reshuffle but that would be a bold move as the war is still raging in Ukraine.

In the years following the invasion, authorities have cracked down on any form of dissent with a ferocity not seen since Soviet times. Putin indicated Tuesday that he would continue to silence critics.
He told his audience in the Grand Kremlin Palace to remember the “tragic cost of internal turmoil and upheaval,” and said that Russia “must be strong and absolutely resistant to any challenges and threats.”
Putin enters his fifth term with practically no opposition to his rule inside the country.

His greatest political foe, opposition leader Alexei Navalny, died in an Arctic penal colony in February. Other prominent critics have either been imprisoned or have fled the country, and even some of his opponents abroad fear for their security.

Laws have been enacted that threaten long prison terms for anyone who discredits the military. The Kremlin also targets independent media, rights groups, LGBTQ+ activists and others who don’t hew to what Putin has emphasized as Russia’s “traditional family values.” (AP) 


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