Putin inaugurated for fifth term as Russian president in Kremlin ceremony

Russian state TV broadcast the hourlong ceremony live, accompanied by enthusiastic commentary, showing Putin walking out of his office in the Kremlin as he got into a car for a short drive to the ceremony as snow fell on Moscow.

He then walked the red carpet of the Kremlin’s historic halls to the applause of hundreds of guests, made up of Cabinet ministers, parliamentarians and celebrities, including American actor Steven Seagal, who has supported Putin for years. Asked by NBC News for his impression of the event, Seagal replied: “the best.”

The Russian leader stopped to shake a few hands before he took to the stage to renew his oath to the Russian people.

“I want to bow to our heroes, participants in the special military operation, everyone who is fighting for the motherland,” Putin said, using the Kremlin’s term for his war in Ukraine.

As he vowed that Russians alone will determine the fate of the country, Putin — in power as either president or prime minister since 2000 — also said that Moscow was open to dialogue with Western governments, as long as they changed their approach.

“The choice is theirs: Do they intend to continue trying to restrain the development of Russia, continue the policy of aggression, continuous pressure on our country for years, or look for a path to cooperation and peace,” he added. Putin has framed his invasion of Ukraine as part of an existential conflict with the West, which he blames for trying to subdue Russia’s might.

Some of Putin’s high-profile apparatchiks, including the heads of the Ukrainian regions that Russia annexed in 2022, mingled with the press after the event to extol the virtues of the Russian leader and his speech.

“This is the first time for us, so there is a special trepidation and excitement,” said Denis Pushilin, head of Russian-installed authorities in the partially occupied eastern region of Donetsk.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, Putin’s loyal ally and ardent war supporter, also made an appearance after widespread speculation about his ill health.

The inauguration is usually attended by dozens of foreign dignitaries, but the Kremlin has been engaged in a growing clash with the U.S. and European powers over the war in Ukraine.

Putin appeared to send a message to his foes the day before the inauguration, ordering drills simulating the use of tactical nuclear weapons. The Russian Defense Ministry said Monday that the drills, which will test the readiness of nonstrategic nuclear forces to perform combat missions, was a response to “provocative statements and threats by certain Western officials against the Russian Federation.”

It appears to be a rebuke of French President Emmanuel Macron, who has spoken several times in recent months about the possibility of sending Western troops to Ukraine. British Foreign Secretary David Cameron also riled up the Kremlin last week when he told Reuters that Kyiv had the right to use British-supplied weapons to strike targets inside Russia.

The Russian leader has few remaining enemies to combat at home, but it’s expected he will carry out a government reshuffle after the ceremony.

All eyes will be on any changes in the positions of the prime minister, currently occupied by loyal technocrat Mikhail Mishustin, and defense minister, held by long-time ally Sergei Shoigu. The latter was hit by a recent corruption scandal involving one of his deputies and allies.

Analysts will also be watching closely for possible successors jockeying for position, though there’s no sign Putin intends to relinquish power.

He will soon match Soviet leader Josef Stalin as the country’s longest-serving modern ruler. Putin is eligible to run for another six-year term after his current tenure expires in 2030, when he will be 77.