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Russian President Putin is being inaugurated for a 5th term


It's Inauguration Day in Russia, and there is a familiar face in the spotlight.


MARTIN: Vladimir Putin took the oath of office for a fifth time. At the end of the six-year term, assuming he completes it, the Russian president will have been in power longer than Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Joining us to talk about this from Moscow is NPR's Russian correspondent Charles Maynes. Charles, welcome.


MARTIN: So describe the atmosphere for us. What did Putin have to say?

MAYNES: Yeah, you know, this inauguration felt at times more like a coronation for the czars of the past, with the Kremlin Gilded Halls, and interestingly an Orthodox church service where Putin was blessed by the Moscow Patriarch. Now, Putin did give us a brief speech in which he thanked Russians for putting their trust in him and said together, they could overcome any obstacle. But the moment that jumped out to me was when he addressed the West.



MAYNES: So here Putin says Russia is not refusing dialogue with Western governments, but that the choice was theirs. They could continue to try and contain Russia and pursue, in Putin's words, the politics of aggression, or they could seek a path to cooperation and peace.

MARTIN: OK, a path to peace - that - this is as Putin continues the war in Ukraine, which he started. So can you step back and talk about how that conflict has transformed the country?

MAYNES: Yeah, you know, Putin's decision to invade Ukraine has changed everything here, from the products Russians buy and where they can travel to what they can say and what they can read. The economy, culture, media, education, all now serve the war effort, which is increasingly framed not as a battle with Ukraine, but with what Putin calls the collective West. And Russia has become a drastically more repressive society. The public space for dissenting views has disappeared almost completely. In fact, most Russians who disagree with the president are either now in exile, jail or silenced out of fear.

MARTIN: And I think a lot of people will remember that maybe Putin's best-known critic, Alexei Navalny, died in a prison camp just before the election. Does that mean...


MARTIN: ...That the Russian president has no challengers at all?

MAYNES: Well, Putin's hold over Russian political life has never been stronger, but observers argue there's an inherent instability in having so much power in the hands of one man. I recently spoke with Maksim Samorukov - he's a fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center - who argued the invasion of Ukraine is an example of where Putin creates his own chaos.

MAKSIM SAMORUKOV: It's not that some external enemy, external opponents or domestic opponents are threatening the existence of Putin's regime, but rather Putin himself because of his self-defeating decisions, because of his propensity to make moves that create problems for the survival of his system.

MARTIN: So what do you think is next? What are we going to be looking for?

MAYNES: Well, you know, Putin has repeatedly vowed to fulfill Moscow's goals in Ukraine. The question is what that might involve in men or additional resources, and of course, how society responds. We may also soon see a government reshuffle that provides other clues to his priorities. But Putin's focus has often been on bigger forces at play. You know, he argues this is a pivotal moment when we're on the verge of a new world order with Russia at the forefront. And in that sense, some like Samorukov, the Carnegie analyst we heard from, argue Putin - healthy, but age 71 - is in a race against time, particularly if he's to prove himself as this transformational figure who returned Russia back to great power status.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Charles Maynes. Charles, thank you.

MAYNES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.