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Putin Sworn In Amid Controversy Over Protest Violence

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and former President Dmitry Medvedev shakes hands at the inauguration ceremony.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and former President Dmitry Medvedev shakes hands at the inauguration ceremony.

MOSCOW - Vladimir Putin was sworn in Monday as Russia’s president. But the highly choreographed ceremony in the Kremlin’s St. Andrew Hall was clouded by events in the Russian capital a day earlier, when police and protesters, during a large opposition demonstration, left dozens injured on both sides.

With his right hand on the Russian constitution, Vladimir Putin swore that, in carrying out his duties as Russia’s president, he would “respect and safeguard” rights and freedoms, observe and protect the country’s constitution, protect its sovereignty, independence, security and integrity, and “faithfully serve the people.”

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Earlier Monday, Russia’s outgoing president, Dmitry Medvedev, addressed the nearly 3,000 Russian and foreign dignitaries who attended the Kremlin swearing-in ceremony. Back in 2008, near the end of his second presidential term, Putin picked Medvedev to be his successor. Medvedev then picked Putin to be his prime minister.

Medvedev said Monday that the “large-scale” political, economic and social reforms which he said he and Putin had carried out need to be continued.

Only through such reforms, Medvedev said, will Russia be a 'powerful democratic state' where law and social justice reign. He said that as president, he had worked “openly and honestly” to achieve such goals, and while not all of them were reached, such efforts must continue.

In a brief address after being sworn in Monday, Putin said Russia would achieve its goals only if it strengthened democracy and constitutional rights and freedoms.

Yet some observers see a disconnect between those stated goals and past practice. It was Putin’s announcement last September that he would again run for president and make Medvedev his prime minister, which both outraged and energized Russia’s political opposition.

Widespread reports of fraud in last December’s parliamentary elections and presidential elections in March only served to heighten tensions.

Those tensions turned violent Sunday, when opposition demonstrators clashed with police during a mass protest in Moscow. More than 400 people were arrested and scores of demonstrators and policemen were injured.

Some analysts said Monday that the growing gulf between an uncompromising Kremlin and an increasingly radicalized opposition will lead to further violence.

Lilia Shevtsova, a political analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center, predicts that Putin will increasingly resort to “repressive mechanisms.”

“He will never give any concessions, neither to the opposition nor to the protesters’ movement, because the only concession the society, civil society, is expecting from him, is competition -- fair competition -- and rule of law. That means new elections, and one can guess that if the election is really fair, Putin has no guarantees to win the elections,” Shevtsova said.

Following Monday’s inauguration, Vladimir Putin submitted Dmitry Medvedev’s candidacy for the post of prime minister to the State Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament, for consideration.