Vladimir Putin starts again – with crackdown on dissent
Returning President speaks of democracy and openness as hundreds are detained
As the Kremlin clock struck noon, Vladimir Putin strode through several sets of gold doors along an expanse of red carpet and on to the podium in one of the Kremlin's most lavish halls. With an expression that flickered between a smirk and a grimace, he laid one hand on a copy of the Russian constitution and was inaugurated as President of Russia for a new six-year term.
But while inside the Kremlin there was all the pomp and high ceremony that befits the venue, outside central Moscow was cleared as if for a military operation and police detained more than 100 protesters.
A day after a huge rally descended into violent clashes and hundreds of arrests, the police were taking no chances and blocked off all the roads down which Mr Putin's cortege would travel, and the whole area around the Kremlin. The limousine, flanked by half a dozen motorcycle outriders, glided towards the Kremlin through eerily deserted streets.
"I consider service to the fatherland and our nation to be the meaning of my life," said Mr Putin to the packed hall after he had taken his oath. "We want to live and we will live in a democratic country where everyone has the freedom and opportunity to apply their talent and labour, their energy. We want to live and we will live in a successful Russia, which is respected in the world as a reliable, open, honest and predictable partner."
In the short speech, Mr Putin called for unity and said the coming years would be decisive for Russia. "We will achieve our goals if we are a single, united people," said Mr Putin, who first became President in 2000 and now returns after four years as Prime Minister, during which time he was still widely regarded as the most powerful person in the country.
Even as Mr Putin spoke of unity, however, opposition activists were being rounded up and arrested. Police in body armour chased protesters around the central Boulevard Ring to make sure they got nowhere near the route of the official cortege. By the afternoon, police were simply detaining anyone spotted wearing a white ribbon, which has become the unofficial symbol of the opposition to Mr Putin. In the morning, riot police descended on Jean-Jacques, a faux-Parisian bistro popular with the Moscow intellectual class, and arrested patrons at random, tossing them into waiting trucks.
More than 100 people were detained over the course of the day, in addition to 450 who were detained at the protest on Sunday, which also left 17 people in hospital, including many riot police.
Yesterday, opposition leaders including Alexei Navalny, a blogger, were released with a 1,000 rouble (£20) fine. Moscow authorities said the arrests on Sunday only began when "provocators" in the crowd started attacking police, and Mr Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov complained that police were "too gentle" with protesters.
Some male detainees who had not served their compulsory time in the Russian army were ordered to report to conscription points in the coming weeks, in what is perhaps a scare tactic to keep people away from protests.
"Putin looked sad today," said Sergei Udaltsov, a radical leftist leader who was also arrested on Sunday and released yesterday. "You can disperse a protest once, you can disperse it twice, but at some point so many people will come out on to the streets that they won't have enough buses or police stations to deal with everyone."
Guests at yesterday's inauguration included the former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a personal friend of Mr Putin, as well as the entire top echelon of Russian officials.
Mr Putin's wife Ludmila, who is rarely seen in public, was also in attendance. During the brief camera shots of her, she looked uncomfortable and appeared to be shaking.
Also present was Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union. Dmitry Medvedev, the outgoing President who was handpicked by Mr Putin to take over from him in 2008, will now become Prime Minister.
educationTo mark International Women's Day, Sarah Brown on how charities have brought proper joined-up thinking to the delivery of education
South African rhino finally put down after roaming Kruger park for days with horn hacked off and bullet in brain
Lammily: Barbie-like doll hits Kickstarter fundraising target in a day
Belle Knox: How a porn star student from Duke University became bigger than Justin Bieber
Oscar Pistorius trial: Neighbour feared South African athlete would use gun that killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp to kill himself
Top 10 most expensive cities in the world: Singapore named costliest place to live – but what about London?
Apple's Tim Cook: Business isn’t just about making profit
Thousands of young people forced to go without food after benefits wrongly stopped under 'draconian' new sanctions regime
Ukraine crisis: New navy chief 'defects' and surrenders Crimean HQ as Putin claims ultranationalists forced intervention
Ukraine crisis: Russia dismisses '3am ultimatum' as 'total nonsense'
If you're horrified by a flame-roasted dog, you should be shocked at a hog roast
Poor 'live like animals' says Boris's privately educated sister after going on 'poverty safari'
- 1 The future of sex: The first female condoms were derided, mistrusted and shunned - but will their modern counterparts catch on?
- 2 South African rhino finally put down after roaming Kruger park for days with horn hacked off and bullet in brain
- 3 Study suggests that 'gaydars' are real - at least for women
- 4 Man stabbed with Legend of Zelda Master Sword in serious condition
- 5 First clip of Outkast's Andre 3000 in Jimi Hendrix biopic All Is By My Side emerges
£1200 per month: Inspiring Interns: Our client is one of Europes leading mobi...
£12000 per annum: Inspiring Interns: Founded in 2008 by two Chinese tech entre...
£12000 - £18000 per annum: Inspiring Interns: Our client is a high-end niche t...
£22000 - £25000 per annum, Benefits: Subsidised gym membership, 25 days holiday...