Vladimir Putin sworn in for 4th term as Russian president, vows to 'serve the people'
Putin term will be full of speculation as he is constitutionally barred from serving again in 2024
Vladimir Putin was sworn in Monday for another six years as Russian president, buoyed by popular support but weighed down by a costly confrontation with the West, a fragile economy and uncertainty about what happens when his term ends.
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, safeguard rights and freedoms, and protect Russian sovereignty.
Putin's inauguration for a fourth term came two months after more than 70 per cent of voters backed him in an election in which he had no serious challengers.
His most dangerous opponent, Alexei Navalny, was barred from running. On Saturday, Navalny and hundreds of his supporters were detained by police while protesting Putin's new term under the slogan: "Putin is not our tsar."
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. "The object of my life and my work will be to serve the people and the fatherland."
For the short journey from his office to the inauguration ceremony, Putin travelled in a new Russian-made limousine. From now on, the limousine will replace the fleet of imported vehicles Putin uses, state television reported.
Putin put forward Dmitry Medvedev for the post of prime minister, the Kremlin said in a statement on its website. Medvedev, who had been prime minister since 2012, resigned earlier on Monday along with the rest of the government in line with procedure.
Medvedev's candidacy still has to be approved by the State Duma, or the lower house of parliament.
Once this term ends in 2024, when Putin will be 71, the constitution bars him from running again for president.
Putin circumvented the country's two-term limit in 2008, serving as prime minister but effectively retaining power as Medvedev served a four-year term as president.
Strained West relations, economic challenges
He will soon have ruled longer than Soviet Communist leader Leonid Brezhnev, whose 18-year rule from 1964 to 1982 is primarily associated with stagnation.
Foreign diplomats see little prospect that Russia's standoffs with the West that have dominated the past four years will ease during Putin's new term.
Clashes in the past few weeks over U.S. 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.
Opinion polls show Putin has high levels of support among Russian citizens, and Navalny has not been able to inspire a nationwide upsurge of protests.
But the Russian economy is 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 in 2013 to $553 last year.
Russia's economy, the world's eleventh largest, returned to growth of 1.5 pe rcent last year, helped by a recovery in oil prices. But that fell short of the government's 2 per cent target and was far from the 8.5 per cent growth achieved in 2007, the highest level achieved during Putin's rule.
Officials and analysts say bold policies with the best chance of reviving growth have been mired in disagreements among Putin's policymakers.
Likely options as 2024 approaches include Putin leaving the Kremlin but continuing to run the country from another post, or bowing out of public life and handing things over to an anointed successor.
Kremlin insiders say Putin has not selected any heir apparent, and any names being circulated are the product of speculation, not knowledge of Putin's thinking.
The names include:
- Igor Sechin, head of state oil firm Rosneft.
- Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.
- Alexei Dyumin, a former Putin bodyguard who became a regional governor.
- Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin.
Anointing a successor entails dangers for Putin, as doing so too soon would risk making him a lame duck, allegiances shifting from him to the heir apparent and new turf wars being set off in the ruling elite.
Putin, who is 65, embarks on his fourth term in office buoyed by widespread popular support but weighed down by a costly confrontation with the West, a fragile economy and uncertainty about what happens when his term ends.