Pomp and Circumstance

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Russian President Vladimir Putin’s fifth term in office was marked Tuesday by an inauguration ceremony showcasing his domestic power, with the leader, now having been in office for nearly a quarter of a century, more firmly entrenched than ever, CNN reported.

The ceremony, full of pageantry and religion, involved Putin taking swipes at the West: “Russia does not refuse dialogue with Western states,” he said. “(Instead), the choice is theirs: do they intend to continue trying to contain Russia, continue the policy of aggression, (apply) continuous pressure on our country for years, or look for a path to cooperation and peace.”

Western countries including the United States and European nations boycotted the ceremony, describing the election as neither free nor fair. With no credible challenger – prominent opposition figures were either disqualified, jailed, or dead – Putin won March’s presidential election with 87 percent of the vote.

Putin will now have another six years at the helm, when he will be eligible to run again. First elected in 2000 – in an election that was the first democratic transfer of power in Russia – he has since tightened his grip over the country and cracked down on dissent, even more markedly so since he ordered the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Ahead of the inauguration, allegations surfaced by Ukraine’s security service (SBU) which said that Russia had sought moles in the Ukrainian agency to assassinate President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as “a gift to Putin before the inauguration,” the BBC reported.

The SBU said they thwarted a plot to kill Zelensky and other high-ranking officials and arrested two Ukrainian government protection officers, who they accused of being connected with the Russian secret services.

Meanwhile, the leaders of four Ukrainian regions annexed by Russia in 2022 – Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia – attended the inauguration ceremony.

France’s envoy to Russia was also among the crowd, a day after he was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry for a dressing-down over French President Emmanuel Macron’s statement that he was “not ruling out” sending troops to Ukraine, Agence France-Presse reported.

In response to what Moscow called “provocative statements and threats” by Western powers, Putin on Monday ordered his forces to carry out tactical nuclear weapon drills.

This marked the first time Russia publicly issued threats of resorting to nuclear warheads since the beginning of the war, wrote CNN.

“Tactical” or “non-strategic” nuclear weapons are less powerful than their strategic counterparts – hence they can be used in battlefield situations.

Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Gen. Patrick Ryder said the announcement did not signal a change in Russia’s military strategy but rather confirmed its “irresponsible rhetoric,” though the US has been bracing for Russian nuclear strikes in Ukraine since late 2022.

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