The King of the North? Putin to be sworn in as president of divided Russiahttp://www.reuters.com/article/slidesho ... 120506#a=1
By Timothy Heritage
MOSCOW | Sun May 6, 2012 6:17pm EDT
(Reuters) - Vladimir Putin will be sworn in as Russia's president at a glittering ceremony on Monday, hours after clashes between police and protesters laid bare the deep divisions over his return to the Kremlin for six more years.
The former KGB spy will take his oath before nearly 2,000 guests in the Kremlin's St Andrew Hall, the former throne room with sparkling chandeliers, gilded pillars and high Gothic vaults, before being blessed by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and taking charge of the nuclear suitcase.
He will also deliver a short speech, inspect the Kremlin presidential guard and host a lavish reception featuring only Russian food and drink.
Although he has remained Russia's supreme leader for the past four years as prime minister, Putin will take back the formal reins of power he ceded to his ally Dmitry Medvedev in 2008 after eight years as president.
He is returning with his authority weakened by months of protests that have polarized Russia and left him facing a battle to reassert himself or risk being sidelined by the powerful business and political elites whose backing is vital.
In the latest protests on Sunday, police detained more than 400 people, including three opposition leaders, after tensions boiled over at a rally attended by about 20,000 people across the Moscow river from the Kremlin.
Police hit protesters on the head with batons as they tried to stop demonstrators advancing towards them, carrying metal crowd barriers and throwing objects. The crowd fought back with flagpoles before the police eventually restored order.
"Putin has shown his true face, how he 'loves' his people - with police force," said Dmitry Gorbunov, 35, a computer analyst who took part in the protest.
A few kilometers (miles) across Moscow, several thousand people staged a rally supporting Putin, seen by his backers as the only leader capable of defending Russia's interests on the world stage and the guardian of the economy at home.
While Putin's critics have tired of a political system that concentrates power in one man, many of his supporters welcome his domination of the country of more than 140 million.
"Democracy is the power of the majority. Russia is everything, the rest is nothing!" Alexander Dugin, a Kremlin-aligned nationalist, told the pro-Putin crowd.
RUSSIA HAS CHANGED
The rival rallies underlined the rifts opened by Putin's return to the Kremlin and protests that were sparked by allegations of electoral fraud but fuelled by many Russians' frustration that one man continues to dominate the country.
Some opposition activists plan to try to stage a protest outside the Kremlin before the inauguration ceremony.
Although the protests had lost momentum before Sunday's rally, they have given birth to a civil society, two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, that is gradually chipping away at Putin's authority.
Putin, who will be 60 in October, grew up in Soviet days and worked as a spy in communist East Germany, is under pressure to show he can adapt to the new political landscape. Few think he has changed much - if at all.
Putin has eased up on the choreographtranquilizerics that burnished his image at his peak in Russia, such as riding horseback bare-chested and shooting a tiger with a tranquilizer gun.
Harder to shake off will be his habit of seeking total control and learning to cope with political opponents and a middle class demanding more political freedom.
He has to quell rivalries between liberals and conservatives battling for positions in the new cabinet under Medvedev, who is swapping jobs with Putin. The outcome of the struggle could help determine how far reforms go to improve the investment climate.
The $1.9 trillion economy is in better shape than in most European countries but is vulnerable to any change in the price of oil, Russia's main export commodity. The budget is under pressure from Putin's lavish election spending promises.
Putin has said he wants to attract more foreign investment by improving the business climate, reduce corruption and red tape, and end Russia's heavy dependence on energy exports. He has not spelled out how he will do this.
Putin is likely, as in the past, to use tough anti-Western rhetoric on foreign policy to drum up support if times get tough in Russia. But he has never yielded his strong influence over foreign policy as premier, so a major policy shift is unlikely.
(Editing by Andrew Roche)
RELATED:Putin says ready to "go far" in U.S. relations: Ifaxhttp://s1.reutersmedia.net/resources/r/ ... E8441DQ100
By Gleb Bryanski
MOSCOW | Sat May 5, 2012 6:25pm EDT
(Reuters) - Russia's President-elect Vladimir Putin is ready to go far in developing ties between Russia and the United States provided the relationship is equal, Interfax news agency quoted Putin's foreign policy aide as saying on Saturday.
Putin discussed bilateral relations at a closed-door meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama's top security aide Tom Donilon at his Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow on Friday, three days before his inauguration ceremony at the Kremlin.
"Putin emphasized that in developing the relationship with the United States, Russia is ready to go really far, on condition that the Americans will act on the principles of an equal and mutually respectful partnership," Yuri Ushakov was quoted as saying.
Ushakov said Donilon handed Putin a letter from Obama, calling it "a multi-page detailed document, whose main message is that Obama is ready to cooperate with Putin in order to move forward on the path of the creation of partnership between the United States and Russia".
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov and the U.S. embassy in Russia declined to comment on the meeting.
Putin plans to make his first foreign visit as president later this month to the United States where he will take part in the G8 leaders' summit as well as meet Obama. Putin's second major foreign visit will be to China at the start of June.
Putin, who tried to keep a low profile in foreign policy issues during his stint as prime minister, last met Obama for a caviar breakfast at Novo-Ogaryovo in July 2009.
Obama made "reset" of U.S. relations with Russia one of his top foreign policy priorities. He had a good working relationship with departing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev who will now become prime minister.
As prime minister, Putin has held regular meetings with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, an architect of the Cold War policy of detente towards the Soviet Union.
Putin extensively used anti-American rhetoric in the run-up to March 4 presidential election accusing U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of stirring protests against his 12-year rule by encouraging "mercenary" Kremlin foes.
The two former Cold War foes still differ over issues including the Syrian crisis and U.S. plans for a missile defense shield in Europe. Many observers believe the relationship may deteriorate during Putin's six-year presidency.
A top Russian general warned this week that Moscow could carry out pre-emptive strikes on future NATO missile defense installations. NATO called such threats "unjustified" and said the system posed no threat to Russia's security.
Obama was caught on camera in March telling Medvedev that he will have "more flexibility" to deal with contentious issues such as missile defense after the U.S. presidential election in November.
Obama, who holds his first political rallies of the 2012 campaign on Saturday, has been criticized by opponents for being too soft on Russia and is likely to step up criticism ahead of the election.
(Reporting by Gleb Bryanski; Editing by Rosalind Russell)