“The symbolic Putin is omnipotent, like St. George slaying the Western dragon, but the flesh-and-bones Putin is barely capable of solving Russians’ everyday problems or preventing tragedies,” Andrei Kolesnikov, an associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center, wrote in a commentary on Mr. Putin’s continued popularity despite the economic slump. “The president answers for the symbolic renaissance of feelings of belonging to a great world power, while it is mayors, regional heads, and ministers who answer for fires and rubbish dumps.”
European election observers with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe wrote that his recent re-election, “took place in an overly controlled legal and political environment marked by continued pressure on critical voices.”
Underscoring that point, two days before the inauguration, the police arrested about 1,600 people at protest actions called “He is not our czar.” Demonstrators wore paper crowns to mock Mr. Putin’s long rule, now running longer than any Russian leader since Stalin.
The arrests added images of swinging nightsticks and shoving matches with the police to the inaugural events. “A Spoiled Party,” read a headline on Monday in Vedomosti, a business newspaper.
The violence included a seeming throwback to an era of crowd-control tactics in Russia. Men wearing Cossack uniforms and carrying a type of traditional leather whip known as a nagaika had mingled in the crowd, occasionally lashing out. The Echo of Moscow radio station reported Monday that the Cossack group had won municipal contracts to train for and help with crowd control, though it remained unclear whether they acted in an official capacity on Saturday.
Mr. Putin first became president on Dec. 31, 1999, when Boris Yeltsin, ailing from heart troubles, resigned. Mr. Putin was then elected in 2000 and served twice, the constitutional limit for successive terms. He then became prime minister for one term, before returning to the presidency in 2012. For his third and now fourth spells as president, the term was extended to six years from four.
While not short on pomp, the ceremony on Monday was less elaborate than his inauguration in 2012.
In 2012, the police cordoned off much of the city center to allow Mr. Putin’s motorcade to glide through quiet streets toward the Kremlin. Eerie images of the leader in an empty city sparked criticism that Mr. Putin had lost touch with the people.