Putin inaugurated as president for fifth term with Russia under tight grip

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Vladimir Putin has formally begun his fifth term as Russia’s president in a carefully choreographed inauguration ceremony, in a country he has shaped in his image after first taking office nearly a quarter of a century ago.

Putin won Russia’s stage-managed election by an overwhelming majority in March, securing for himself another six-year term that could see him rule until at least his 77th birthday.

With most opposition candidates either dead, jailed, exiled or barred from running – and with dissent effectively outlawed in Russia since it launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 – Putin faced no credible challenge to his rule.

The inauguration ceremony, held Tuesday in the Kremlin, was attended by Russia’s top military and political brass, but the United States and many European nations declined to send a representative after dismissing Russia’s elections as a sham.

“We certainly did not consider that election free and fair, but he is the president of Russia and is going to continue in that capacity,” US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said Monday.

Putin’s first inauguration ceremony, held in 2000, was heralded as the first time in Russia’s history that power within the Kremlin changed hands through an electoral process. In his speech then, Putin said his election “proved that Russia is becoming a modern democratic state.”

Twenty-four years on, Putin has since remained in power as president or prime minister, and tinkered with Russia’s constitution to remove term limits and extend each term’s length from four years to six.

While Putin received 53% of the vote in the 2000 presidential election, deemed by the US Embassy in Moscow to be “reasonably” free and fair, he won 87% in March’s election – a figure the US called “farcical.”

In the days after March’s vote, Putin appeared on stage in Moscow’s Red Square alongside the three opponents allowed to run against him. The men sang Russia’s national anthem shoulder to shoulder, as if to confirm the illusion of competition.

In a terse speech Tuesday, held the day after he again rattled his saber by announcing a non-strategic nuclear weapons exercise, Putin said Russia does not refuse dialogue with Western countries, but “the choice is theirs” whether to pursue aggression or peace.

“Do they intend to continue trying to restrain the development of Russia, continue the policy of aggression, continuous pressure on our country for years, or look for a path to cooperation and peace?”

Among those in the audience were the Russian-installed leaders of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia – four occupied regions of Ukraine annexed by Russia in 2022.

Putin’s inauguration comes as Russia is attempting to press home its vast manpower and ammunition advantages in Ukraine before the bulk of a long-delayed US aid package arrives to bolster Kyiv’s depleted forces.

Putin has strived to keep Russians isolated from the effects of the war, by recruiting soldiers from Russia’s prisons and more rural regions and trying to keep its urban centers stuffed with goods despite Western sanctions.

But pockets of dissent have pierced the veneer of normality. The most direct challenge to Putin’s rule was made by then-Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin who, angered by Russian military blunders in Ukraine, ordered his mercenaries to march on Moscow in a bizarre spectacle that briefly threatened to undermine Putin’s monopoly on power. Within 24 hours, Prigozhin had called off his mutiny. Two months later, he was confirmed dead in a plane crash. The Kremlin denied involvement in the incident.

Alexey Navalny, Putin’s most formidable political opponent, also died before the most recent election. Navalny died in an Arctic prison in February after he “felt unwell after a walk” and lost consciousness “almost immediately,” Russia’s prison service said. The Kremlin denied involvement.

Putin’s invasion has reshaped the world’s post-Cold War geopolitical axes, prompting the West to treat Russia as a pariah state after decades of more amicable relations.

But Russia has tried to forge new partnerships with countries in the “Global South,” including delivering grain to African countries after trying repeatedly to cut off Ukraine’s ability to export its own produce.

To ensure it has enough drones and missiles to bombard Ukraine, Russia has also entered into deeper partnerships with Iran and North Korea.

“We have been and will be open to strengthening good relations with all countries that see Russia as a reliable and honest partner. And this is truly the global majority,” Putin said Tuesday.

After officially taking office, Putin will attend a parade of the Presidential Regiment on Cathedral Square in the Kremlin. The regiment is Russia’s most famous elite military unit, state media reported, and military personnel of the regiment perform functions throughout the ceremonial events of the inauguration.

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