MOSCOW: Vladimir Putin has been ‘honoured’, in similar fashion to a ‘Russian tsar’ from the country’s past. During his swearing-in for a fresh six-year term as Russia’s President, Putin had a double-edged message for the West: “the Kremlin is ready to talk but Russia is girding for victory in Ukraine”.

Putin, rose to the senior-most position at the Kremlin only eight years after the fall of the Soviet Union. He is now set to overtake Josef Stalin and effectively become Russia’s longest-serving ruler since ‘Empress Catherine the Great’, should he complete the term.

The 71-year-old, who is also former KGB ‘spy’ exuded confidence in the carefully choreographed inauguration. The West and his opponents (who are mainly in jail or abroad) cast this as ‘a fig leaf of democracy’, ‘covering a corrupt Russian autocracy’.

As the Russian elite waited in the Hall of Saint Andrew within the Grand Kremlin Palace (where the imperial throne once sat), Putin dissected documents in his office. After this, he walked down the corridors of the Kremlin saluting guards and even stopped to ‘leisurely’ study a picture on the wall.

“We do not refuse dialogue with Western states” Putin stated after being sworn in. He added that he was ready for talks on ‘security and strategic stability’ but only on the condition that there was no “arrogance” on the part of the United States and its allies.

Russia’s chief (of more than 24 years) promised ‘victory’ and said all Russians were now “answerable to our thousand-year history and our ancestors.” He departed from the ceremony to the music “Hail” from Mikhail Glinka’s opera “A Life for the Tsar”. The words “Hail, hail, my Rus! Hail you are my Russian land” rang out in the Kremlin. The original words are “Hail, hail, our Russian tsar!”.

“The authority of our president is higher than ever, higher than the American president, higher even than the Russian tsar. So much depends on our president” said Gennady Zyuganov (a leader of the Communist Party).

Ukraine war

Putin’s prerogative of invading Ukraine in 2022, sparked the worst breakdown in relations between Russia and the West, since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Russia is making notable advances along the front line and its artillery production currently outstrips the Nato alliance.

The West views Putin as an autocrat, a war criminal and a killer. The President of United States, Joe Biden, called Putin a “crazy SOB” earlier this year and U.S. officials allege he has ‘enslaved Russia in a corrupt dictatorship’.

Putin frames the war as part of an existential battle with a ‘declining and decadent West’. He believes the West ‘humiliated’ Russia after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, by encroaching on what he considers to be Moscow’s traditional sphere of influence, that includes Ukraine.

Sergei Naryshkin, the senior most figure of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), told members of the press that Putin’s speech was an ‘invitation to the West to begin dialogue’.

“From one side, this is an invitation to the West to equal cooperation and from the other side, it is the firm conviction that Russia will ensure its own development and security” Naryshkin said. “And if the West doesn’t want to talk? Then let them think” Naryshkin said with a smile.

Published in Dawn, May 8th, 2024

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