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Putin takes oath to begin his fifth term as Russian President, Western nations skip inauguration

Russia's tensions with the West have soared to all-time highs due to the Ukraine war, and many Western countries have skipped the 71-year-old President's inauguration. Putin's re-election was marred by a crackdown on opposition leaders and activists, including the late Alexei Navalny.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Moscow Updated on: May 29, 2024 9:57 IST
russia, vladimir putin, presidential inauguration
Image Source : REUTERS Russian President Vladimir Putin walks before the inauguration ceremony at the Kremlin.

Moscow: Vladimir Putin took oath as Russian president in a flamboyant inauguration at the Kremlin on Tuesday to begin his fifth term, after tightening his grip on power by launching a devastating war in Ukraine and destroying his political opponents. As Russia's tensions with Western countries are at an all-time high over the Ukraine conflict, several of these countries have opted to skip the high-profile inauguration.

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 is constitutionally eligible to run for another six years. The 71-year-old President has transformed Russia from a country emerging from economic collapse to a pariah state that threatens global security.

Two years after he launched the invasion in Ukraine, 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. 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.”

Western countries boycott Putin's inauguration

Meanwhile, the United States and most European Union nations will boycott a Kremlin ceremony to swear in Vladimir Putin for a new six-year term as president on Tuesday, but France and some other EU states were expected to send an envoy despite a plea by Kyiv. The varying diplomatic response by the Western powers underscored differences over how to handle the Russian leader more than two years after he launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

"No, we will not have a representative at his inauguration," Matthew Miller, the US State Department spokesperson, said. "We certainly did not consider that election free and fair but he is the president of Russia and he is going to continue in that capacity." Moreover, the UK and Canada said they would not send anyone to attend the ceremony, which comes a day after Russia on Monday announced it would hold tactical nuclear weapons drills that it said it hoped would cool down "hotheads" in the West.

A senior Kremlin official said the heads of all the foreign diplomatic missions in Moscow had been invited to attend Putin's inauguration, the Interfax news agency reported. "Ukraine sees no legal grounds for recognising him as the democratically elected and legitimate president of the Russian Federation," the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

A European diplomat said 20 EU member states would boycott the event, but that seven others were expected to send a representative. Apart from France, Hungary and Slovakia were both expected to attend, two diplomatic sources said. Germany's Foreign Ministry also said it would not attend.

What will Putin do in his next term?

It remains to be seen what Putin will do in his next six-year term as the Russian President, both at home and abroad. Shortly after his re-election in March, he said 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.

He 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 defence. Analysts have predicted that Putin may now raise taxes to fund the war and pressure more men to join the military.

The Russian Defence Ministry will be closely watched, especially after Defence 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. This led to a brief uprising in June that 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.

Crackdown on dissent

The results of the predictable elections underscore that Putin remains a widely popular leader in Russia, despite imposing a severe crackdown on opposition figures like the late Alexei Navalny - most opposition leaders are either dead, imprisoned or have fled the country. The war in Ukraine has helped him to tighten his grip on power and boost his popularity with Russians.

Ahead of the elections in March, Putin's approval rating to 86 per cent, up from 71 per cent before the invasion of Ukraine, according to the Levada Centre. Putin's rating also jumped during the 2008 war with Georgia and the 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. Russian television and a sophisticated social media operation project Putin as a robust patriot and deride Western leaders such as US President Joe Biden as weak, foolish and deceitful.

The recently held presidential elections were cast as a moment by the Kremlin for Russia to throw their full weight behind the war in Ukraine. As the West struggles to financially and militarily assist Ukraine, Putin's victory means that he is expected to double down on his efforts to ensure a win for the Russian troops battling there.

(with inputs from agencies)

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