Vladimir Putin begins fifth term as Russian president

Vladimir Putin begins his fifth term as Russian president in an opulent Kremlin inauguration on Tuesday, after launching a devastating war in Ukraine and consolidating all power in his hands.

Already in office for nearly a quarter-century and the longest-serving Kremlin leader since Josef Stalin, Putin’s new term doesn’t expire until 2030, when he is constitutionally eligible to run for another six years.

He has transformed Russia. Following the 2022 invasion of Ukraine that has become Europe’s biggest conflict since World War II, Russia has been heavily sanctioned by the West and is turning to other regimes like China, Iran and North Korea for support.

The question now is what the 71-year-old Putin will do over the course of another six years, both at home and abroad.

Russian forces are gaining ground in Ukraine, deploying scorched-earth tactics as Kyiv grapples with shortages of men and ammunition. Both sides are taking heavy casualties.

Ukraine has brought the battle to Russian soil through drone and missile attacks, especially in border regions. In a speech in February, Putin vowed to fulfil Moscow’s goals in Ukraine, and do what is needed to “defend our sovereignty and security of our citizens.”

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Shortly after his orchestrated reelection in March, Putin suggested that a confrontation between NATO and Russia is possible, and he declared he wanted to carve out a buffer zone in Ukraine to protect his country from cross-border attacks.

At home, Putin’s popularity is closely tied to improving living standards for ordinary Russians.

He began his term in 2018 by promising to get Russia into the top five global economies, vowing it should be “modern and dynamic.” Instead, Russia’s economy has pivoted to a war footing, and authorities are spending record amounts on defense.

Analysts say now that Putin has secured another six years in power, the government could raise taxes to fund the war and pressure more men to join the military.

At the start of a new term, the Russian government is routinely dissolved so that Putin can name a new prime minister and Cabinet.

One key area to watch is the Defence Ministry.

Last year, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu came under pressure over his conduct of the war, with mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin launching withering criticism against him for shortages of ammunition for his private contractors fighting in Ukraine. Prigozhin’s brief uprising in June against the Defense Ministry represented the biggest threat to Putin’s rule.

After Prigozhin was killed two months later in a mysterious plane crash, Shoigu appeared to have survived the infighting. But last month, his protege, Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov, was detained on charges of bribery amid reports of rampant corruption.

Some analysts have suggested Shoigu could become a victim of the government reshuffle but that would be a bold move as the war is still raging in Ukraine.

His adversary, opposition leader Alexei Navalny, died in an Arctic penal colony in February.

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