Today Vladimir Putin was sworn in as Russia's President for a third term at a glittering Kremlin ceremony attended by some 3,000 guests. Although he has remained Russia's de facto leader for the past four years as prime minister, Putin takes back the formal reins of power he ceded to his ally Dmitry Medvedev in 2008, after eight years as president. The previous day clashes between police and protesters laid bare the deep divisions over his return to the Kremlin for six more years (as the term for the post of President was extended to 6 years instead of 4 in 2008). The elections in March as well as the parliamentary elections in December 2011 are widely seen as controversial, with independent observers claiming extensive election fraud. Putin is returning to presidency after months of protests.
As the ceremony was taking place, police detained some 80 protesters, including opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, trying to hold unsanctioned demonstrations at two central Moscow locations. The day before approximately 20.000 people demonstrated against the inauguration of Putin in the capital. Moscow police said they have detained at least 400 protesters, including three opposition leaders. Police clashed with a group of protesters led by Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov and well-known anticorruption blogger Aleksei Navalny that broke off from the sanctioned demonstration and tried to march on the Kremlin. Udaltsov, Navalny, and Nemtsov, were arrested.
"On the eve of the inauguration of Vladimir Putin, we are gathering to go out and say, 'We don't need an illegitimate government,'" Udaltsov said. "We don't need a so-called government that intends to plunder and destroy Russia for another six years." Sergei Mitrokhin, leader of the liberal Yabloko Party, sharply criticized the protesters' breakaway action. He said the conflict with police was "plainly stupid" and that such actions would lead to fewer and fewer participants in future protests.
Sources: RFE, BBC, Aljazeera. Photo: Flickr Sergey Rod