Greeted by bayonet-carrying guards who slowly turned their heads to watch as he passed, Putin walked on a long red carpet through the grand, gilded halls: first St. George Hall, then St. Alexander Hall and finally St. Andrew Hall, throne room of the czars. Above the palace, the presidential flag fluttered in the breeze, the white, blue and red of the Russian Federation emblazoned with the czarist double-headed eagle.
Medvedev, looking wan, even diminished, spoke first. “We launched the modernization of our economy,” he said, “although not everything worked out entirely as planned.”
Medvedev, who became president in 2008 as the hand-picked successor after Putin reached his two-term limit, had been seen as offering the promise of liberalization. But he left his supporters angry and disillusioned when he agreed in September to switch places with Putin, declining to run for president against his mentor. As expected, Putin nominated him for prime minister on Monday.
Putin looked impassive, occasionally even glum. “We have passed a long and difficult road together,” he said. “We now feel confident. We restored our dignity as a great nation.”
As the short ceremony concluded with stirring music, the skies outside were growing heavier and heavier. Putin walked out the way he had
come, this time stopping to acknowledge his wife, Lyudmila, who is rarely seen in public.
She was standing with Boris Yeltsin’s widow, Naina, and
Medvedev’s wife, Svetlana.
Putin kissed each woman on the cheek with equal decorum, and then spoke a few words to his wife.
Off camera, he was given the nuclear suitcase. Then, in Cathedral Square, Putin and Medvedev reviewed the presidential guard, who loudly saluted “Comrade President.”
At the Grand Kremlin Palace, the inauguration was followed by a lavish banquet with champagne and caviar for the guests, who included a few foreign dignitaries. Putin’s friend Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian prime minister, was among them.
Also on hand were Mikhail Prokhorov, a billionaire and unsuccessful presidential candidate; Mikhail Gorbachev, the last president of the Soviet Union; and other Russian officials and cultural figures.