The powerful protests before and during Vladimir Putin's inauguration today signal the fraying image of a Russia united behind its leader.
Vladimir Putin was sworn-in for a third term as Russia's president Monday, with czarist-era pomp in a lavish Kremlin ceremony and almost 2,000 guests on hand, including former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and ex-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
In a brief speech Mr. Putin urged Russians to come together during the next "decisive years" for a "new stage" in the country's development, which he said would set Russia's course for the rest of the century. His words will be taken by many as a pledge that sweeping reforms, long delayed, may finally be enacted.
"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," he said. "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."
But there are many Russians who see little promise in Putin's return to supreme power after running the country for two terms as president, and then as de facto ruler for the past four years while his hand-picked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, held the job – apparently in name only.
But the Soviet-style facade of total public unity behind the leader, painted by Russia's state-run media, is rapidly crumbling.
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