Vladimir Putin, who has been either president or prime minister of Russia since 1999, was sworn in for a fourth term as president Monday at the Grand Kremlin Palace's ornately-decorated Andreyevsky Hall. With his hand on a gold-embossed copy of the constitution, Putin said, "I consider it my duty and my life's aim to do everything possible for Russia, for its present and for its future."
He will not be able to run for a fifth term as president unless there is a change to Russia's constitution which prohibits more than two consecutive terms.
Putin annexed Crimea from Ukraine during his most recent term and also partnered with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad for a military campaign in Syria.
In the March election, Putin won against seven weak challengers, garnering almost 77 percent of the vote. International observers criticized the poll, saying there had been no real choice in the election and complained of widespread allegations of ballot rigging. Russian election officials described the violations as "minor," but said they were investigating.
Putin's inauguration at the Kremlin comes just two days after demonstrations across the country were mounted to protest the beginning of another six-year presidential term for the former KGB chief.
On Saturday, Russia's most widely known opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, was arrested within minutes of his arrival at a demonstration in central Moscow. Navalny and hundreds of his supporters were detained during the protests in Moscow and 90 other cities. Navalny was released Sunday.
Baton-wielding riot police and even men dressed in traditional Cossack uniforms repeatedly waded into the Moscow crowd of most younger Russians to make arrests.
Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International deputy director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said the "forceful dispersal" of the opposition's demonstrations was "outrageous." He denounced the scheme that Russian authorities used "once again" of refusing to authorize protests rallies and then using the ban to crackdown on those gathered in Moscow and elsewhere.
"But what is worse," Krivosheev said, "is the total police inaction, which allowed the beating of protesters by unknown men in Moscow. On what grounds people in 'Cossack' uniforms were allowed to use force remains a question."
Putin, however, is not without supporters.
A nationalist youth movement organized a counter-protest in Moscow, attempting to block Navalny's supporters from gaining access to Pushkinskaya Square. Some chanted "Putin-Russia" and "No to Maidan," a reference to the Ukrainian street revolution of 2014 that toppled the country's pro-Russian government.
Maksim Slavin, a spokesman for the radical pro-Putin National Liberation Movement, said his members were there to show that Putin supporters represented the true voice of the people.
Russians, he insisted, would do anything to prevent a street revolution like those that had taken place in neighboring Ukraine or, more recently, Armenia.
"We're against any change in power through unlawful means. You should do it through referendums, changes in the constitution, or elections," Slavin said.
Source: Voice of America