Putin starts new term amid tensions with West

MOSCOW • Mr Vladimir Putin was sworn in for the fourth time as Russian President, promising his people an “economic and technological breakthrough” in his new six-year term amid the deepest standoff with the West in decades.

“I feel a colossal sense of responsibility,” Mr Putin, 65, told officials and foreign dignitaries gathered yesterday for the inauguration ceremony in the Kremlin, among them former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

“Over its more than thousand-year history, Russia has repeatedly faced times of troubles and trials and has always been reborn like a phoenix,” said Mr Putin.

Later yesterday, he asked Parliament to confirm Mr Dmitry Medvedev to continue as prime minister, the job the latter has held since giving up the presidency to Mr Putin in a job swop in 2012.

Mr Medvedev is expected to win confirmation easily this week.

To help rebuild economic links with the United States and Europe sundered by sanctions imposed since 2014, Mr Putin is considering appointing former finance minister Alexei Kudrin – revered by investors for the pro-market overhauls he led in the Russian leader‘s first two terms – to a new post to lead efforts to revive economic growth, according to officials familiar with the plans.

But there is little appetite for real changes, these people said, as the deepening tensions with the West have strengthened the hand of those arguing for self-reliance and an even greater role for state companies and financing. Four years of increasing US and European Union sanctions have isolated Russia‘s biggest banks and firms from vital financing and technology.

In a move that would create a powerful potential counterweight to Mr Kudrin, Mr Putin is considering promoting his economic adviser Andrey Belousov, a supporter of a strong state role in the economy, to the post of deputy premier, according to four government officials.

Yesterday, Mr Putin started the festivities of his inauguration from the Kremlin, skipping the ride through Moscow after being greeted with empty streets six years ago. He rode from his Kremlin office to the nearby hall for the inauguration in a black Russian-made stretch limousine for the first time rather than a Mercedes as in the past.

He strode up a red carpet flanked by presidential guards dressed in blue and gold-embroidered uniforms to enter the gilt Kremlin hall where he took the oath of office.

Public support for Mr Putin remains strong, according to polls, but opposition simmers below the surface. With the latest sanctions driving affected private companies to demand more state aid, the Kremlin‘s economic role is growing.

“The task now is to overcome the technological lag behind the West while surrounded by unfriendly forces abroad,” said Moscow political consultant Evgeny Minchenko, who works with the Kremlin. Modernisation will be “authoritarian”, he said.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS