Putin steps up to run a vastly changed Russia (+video)
The powerful protests before and during Vladimir Putin's inauguration today signal the fraying image of a Russia united behind its leader.
Vladimir Putin was sworn-in for a third term as Russia's president Monday, with czarist-era pomp in a lavish Kremlin ceremony and almost 2,000 guests on hand, including former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and ex-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.Skip to next paragraph
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In a brief speech Mr. Putin urged Russians to come together during the next "decisive years" for a "new stage" in the country's development, which he said would set Russia's course for the rest of the century. His words will be taken by many as a pledge that sweeping reforms, long delayed, may finally be enacted.
"We want to live and we will live in a democratic country where everyone has the freedom and opportunity to apply their talent and labour, their energy," he said. "We want to live and we will live in a successful Russia, which is respected in the world as a reliable, open, honest, and predictable partner."
But there are many Russians who see little promise in Putin's return to supreme power after running the country for two terms as president, and then as de facto ruler for the past four years while his hand-picked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, held the job – apparently in name only.
But the Soviet-style facade of total public unity behind the leader, painted by Russia's state-run media, is rapidly crumbling.
Moscow on lock-down
Despite the fact that Moscow's city center was firmly locked down Monday by thousands of elite riot troops, several hundred protesters managed to gather in flash mobs along the route of Putin's motorcade and, in one case, near the gates of the Kremlin itself, to shout their disapproval of Putin's return to power.
Police said 120 were arrested. That comes on the heels of a mass protest yesterday of about 20,000 people, which ended in violent clashes with police and hundreds of arrests.
"When Medvedev was inaugurated four years ago, I noticed police made major efforts to clear the city of people. I put that down to Medvedev's lack of self-confidence," says Gleb Pavlovsky, head of the Effective Policy Foundation, and a key political adviser to Putin during his first two terms. "But today they swept the whole city center clean. I wasn't even allowed to go shopping. Maybe the Kremlin team is feeling isolated and defensive after Sunday's events, which could have ended in real bloodshed."
During his first two terms Putin oversaw an impressive national renewal, including rapid economic growth, a fourfold increase in average incomes, a reversal of the 1990s' social decline and even a slowdown of the disastrous demographic collapse that threatens to depopulate whole areas of the country in coming decades.