Putin, isolated from the West, projects domestic power at inauguration ceremony

President Vladimir V. Putin was sworn in for a fifth term on Tuesday in a ceremony filled with pageantry and a televised church service. The Russian leader sought to recast the invasion of Ukraine as a religiously righteous mission that was part of “our mission.” A thousand years of history. ”

Holding a red-covered copy of the Russian Constitution in his hand, Putin took the presidential oath, pledging to “respect and protect the rights and freedoms of man and the people.” The constitution is a 1993 document that guarantees many of the democratic rights of the president. He spent most of his 25-year reign going backwards.

Putin was re-elected in March in a rubber-stamp battle that the West dismissed as a sham. If he serves out the full six years of his new term, he will be the longest-serving leader of Russia since Catherine the Great in the 18th century.

“Together we will win!” Putin said at the end of his speech after taking the oath in the Kremlin’s gilded St. Andrews Hall.

The ceremony was full of pomp, with a guard of honor parading in front of Putin. Elaborate chandeliers hung overhead and supporters stood behind velvet ropes and applauded as the Russian leader took to the stage. Outside, an unusually heavy snowfall was falling in Moscow, an unusual amount for May.

Analysts expect Mr. Putin to make some changes to the government’s structure later this week, but he did not provide details of any new policies in his speech. He also didn’t say anything about the tactical nuclear weapons training the military announced Monday. (Belarus, Russia’s neighbor and ally, announced Tuesday saw its own snap training exercise by troops accused of being trained to use the nuclear weapons Russia stationed there last year. )

Unlike previous inauguration broadcasts, Russian state television covered at length a church service to bless Putin after his speech.

“Heads of state sometimes have to make fateful and frightening decisions,” Patriarch Kirill I, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, was filmed telling President Putin inside the Dormition Cathedral on the Kremlin grounds. “And if such decisions are not taken, the consequences can be very dangerous for the people and the state. But these decisions are most often associated with victims .”

The scene underscores the Kremlin’s increasing efforts to lend a religious sheen to Mr. Putin’s rule and to make his invasion of Ukraine justified in Russia’s Christian tradition. did.

Ksenia Luchenko, an expert on Russian Orthodoxy at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the patriarch’s speech was intended to give Putin a religious blank card against any future violence he might unleash. He said that it seems like there is.

“It’s like, ‘Do whatever you want, because we have complete trust in you,'” Luchenko said in a phone interview. “Putin is trying to sacrosanct every decision,” she added.

In his inaugural address, Putin repeated his call for dialogue, which many critics considered tantamount to demands for surrender by the West and Ukraine. “We will not refuse dialogue with Western countries,” he said.

“I reiterate that talks that include issues of strategic stability are possible,” he added, referring to arms control negotiations with the United States that have stalled since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022. mutual benefit. ”

Isolated from the West and facing indictment at the International Criminal Court, Mr. Putin is wielding more power than ever at home.

Arriving at the ceremony in the Kremlin, Russian Communist Party leader Gennady A. Zyuganov said: “The president of our country has the highest powers, exceeding even the president of the United States and the Russian tsar.” “A lot depends on him.”

More than 2,000 government officials, prominent supporters and administrators from some of Russia’s state institutions in occupied Ukraine gathered to witness the tightly controlled inauguration ceremony.

The gathered supporters shared messages demonstrating Mr. Putin’s iron grip on loyalty to keeping Russia stable, strong and peaceful.

American actor Steven Seagal, who was the first to arrive, said of Russia’s future: “With President Putin, it will be the best.” (Mr. Putin personally handed Mr. Seagal a Russian passport in 2016.)

Putin won more than 87% of the vote in the election scheduled for March, with turnout of almost 80%, according to Russian election authorities.

“Almost the entire population voted for him,” said Alexander P. Petrov, a member of Russia’s lower house of parliament, underscoring the tone of absolute loyalty displayed in the Kremlin. “Our support for the President is absolute because our development vision is being realized in this country.”

Mr. Putin took the brief oath while standing next to Valery Zorkin, head of the Constitutional Court, who has staunchly supported Mr. Putin’s rollback of democratic rights.

The crackdown has chilled critics of Putin’s government. Almost all prominent opposition politicians have been imprisoned. The most prominent, Alexei A. Navalny, died in February in an Arctic penal colony.

Mr Putin’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, criticized Mr Putin’s inauguration. Video posted to YouTube Tuesday morning,

“Our country is led by liars, thieves and murderers,” said Navalnaya, who lives outside Russia. “But this must come to an end.”

Ahead of Tuesday’s inauguration, Ukraine called on its allies not to recognize Putin as the legitimate president, citing illegal presidential elections in Russian-occupied Ukraine.most western countries boycotted France sent an ambassador but did not attend the ceremony. The United States did not send a representative, but the State Department said it would continue to recognize Putin as Russia’s leader.

“While we never believed that election was free and fair, he is the president of Russia and will continue to be that position,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters on Monday.

As before, the tightly scripted state television broadcasts blended ceremonial pomp and portrayal of Mr. Putin as a humble, workmanlike leader. Before the ceremony, Mr. Putin was filmed getting up from his desk, casually flipping through a stack of papers, walking down a long hallway, past uniformed security guards, and getting into a Russian limousine that would transport him around the Kremlin grounds. Ta.

As Putin was en route to the Kremlin for the ceremony, Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin told reporters that the Russian president was the envy of the world.

“Our president is the most capable leader of any foreign country,” Borodin said. “They envy us, and the challenges before us have never been easier to understand and clearer.”

Ivan Nechepurenko, Alina Lobzina, Oleg Matsnev, Aurelien Breeden and Constant Méheut contributed to the report.

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