For Putin’s 4th Term, More a Coronation Than an Inauguration

Mr. Putin, a former KGB agent, has ruled Russia as prime minister or president for more than 18 years.

MOSCOW — Vladimir V. Putin took the oath of office on Monday for a fourth term as Russia’s president, in a ceremony staged in a gilded Kremlin hall once used to crown czars and replete with pageantry, highlighting his vast accumulation of authority after nearly two decades in power.

Mr. Putin, a former KGB agent, has ruled Russia as prime minister or president for more than 18 years, and in that time has crafted an image as a steely nerved leader and the man best qualified to rebuild his country after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

[Update: Putin endorses legislation enabling him to run for president again.]

In a theatrical touch, a televised ceremony began on Monday with Mr. Putin sitting at his desk in the Kremlin, suit jacket looped over his chair, as if hard at work until moments before the ceremony. A phone rang, letting him know it was time for his fourth term; he donned his jacket and walked alone through the red-carpeted Kremlin corridors and into a hall packed with about 6,000 invited, cheering guests.

In a short speech, Mr. Putin suggested his focus had now turned to domestic matters and improving Russia’s economy for the “well-being of every family,” though there were no words of reconciliation in the country’s tense relations with the West.

“The country’s security and defense capabilities are reliably ensured,” Mr. Putin told the audience of government ministers, lawmakers, religious leaders and celebrities.

“Now we will use all the possibilities we have first of all for the resolution of internal, and most essential, tasks of development,” he said. “A new quality of life, well-being, security and health for the people, that is what is important today.”

Mr. Putin won re-election in March with nearly 77 percent of the vote, the largest margin for any post-Soviet leader. It was a result that his backers said showed widespread support, but one his critics dismissed as illustrating the stifling of any real opposition.

While lower key than Mr. Putin’s inauguration in 2012, the ceremony’s regal themes nevertheless gave it the air of a coronation.

The honor guard and flag bearers wore uniforms with tall military caps, of a style dating from Russia’s war with Napoleon in 1812. The ceremony itself unfolded in a Kremlin hall used to crown three czars — Alexander II, Alexander III and Nicholas II — as well as previous presidential inaugurations. And later, Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, gave Mr. Putin an 18th century icon while blessing him for his new term.

Abroad, Mr. Putin has sought to restore Russia’s sway in world affairs. During his third term as president, he intervened militarily in Ukraine and Syria, putting him at loggerheads with the West. And, according to U.S. intelligence agencies, he directed Russia to meddle in the 2016 presidential election to aid Donald J. Trump.

At home, he has presided over the restitution to power of the security agency he once served, with many high officials and corporate executives now former officers like Mr. Putin. But the domestic economy has continued to lag, only recently emerging from a painful recession. He has also clamped down on critics, arresting scores of opposition activists and restricting the media.

Credit...Yekaterina Shtukina/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“The symbolic Putin is omnipotent, like St. George slaying the Western dragon, but the flesh-and-bones Putin is barely capable of solving Russians’ everyday problems or preventing tragedies,” Andrei Kolesnikov, an associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center, wrote in a commentary on Mr. Putin’s continued popularity despite the economic slump. “The president answers for the symbolic renaissance of feelings of belonging to a great world power, while it is mayors, regional heads, and ministers who answer for fires and rubbish dumps.”

European election observers with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe wrote that his recent re-election, “took place in an overly controlled legal and political environment marked by continued pressure on critical voices.”

Underscoring that point, two days before the inauguration, the police arrested about 1,600 people at protest actions called “He is not our czar.” Demonstrators wore paper crowns to mock Mr. Putin’s long rule, now running longer than any Russian leader since Stalin.

The arrests added images of swinging nightsticks and shoving matches with the police to the inaugural events. The repression, Vedomosti, a business newspaper, wrote, risked “spoiling the upcoming inauguration more even than the protest.”

The violence included a throwback to an earlier era of crowd-control tactics in Russia. Men wearing Cossack uniforms and carrying a type of traditional leather whip known as a nagaika had mingled in the crowd, occasionally lashing out. The Echo of Moscow radio station reported Monday that the Cossack group had won municipal contracts to train for and help with crowd control, though it remained unclear whether they acted in an official capacity on Saturday.

Mr. Putin signed decrees on Monday outlining his goals, such as reducing poverty and, by the end of his six-year term, raising Russian life expectancy to 78 years, from 72 now. He signaled political continuity by nominating a longtime ally, Dmitri A. Medvedev, as prime minister.

Whether Mr. Putin shifts gears on economic policy hinges on the possible appointment of a liberal economist, Aleksei L. Kudrin, a former finance minister, to a new post as economic adviser, analysts said. Kremlin hard-liners oppose Mr. Kudrin for advocating an easing of tensions with the West, as well as efforts to revive trade. Mr. Kudrin has also argued for raising taxes and the retirement age to shore up the budget.

Mr. Putin first became president on Dec. 31, 1999, when Boris Yeltsin, ailing from heart troubles, resigned. Mr. Putin was then elected in 2000 and served twice, the constitutional limit for successive terms. He then became prime minister for one term, before returning to the presidency in 2012. For his third and now fourth spells as president, the term was extended to six years from four.

While not short on pomp, the ceremony on Monday was less elaborate than his inauguration in 2012.

In 2012, the police cordoned off much of the city center to allow Mr. Putin’s motorcade to glide through quiet streets toward the Kremlin. Eerie images of the leader in an empty city sparked criticism that Mr. Putin had lost touch with the people.

This year, he stayed within the Kremlin grounds. He walked from his office to a motorcade that drove from one Kremlin building to another, escorted by motorcycles.

In the ceremony, Mr. Putin strode through several interlinked, gilded and chandeliered halls in an historical Kremlin palace before arriving at the Andreyevsky Hall, where guests waited. Few foreign dignitaries attended. Among those in the hall were Gerhard Schröder, the former German chancellor and longtime supporter of Mr. Putin.

Dozhd, an opposition television station, cited Kremlin officials saying they sought a lower-key ceremony this time. While not exactly calling it routine, Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, told reporters that the inauguration was less significant this year because Mr. Putin was just beginning a new term, not shifting from the prime minister’s office to the presidency.

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