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A Czar Is Born

Vladimir Putin inauguration
In Russia, political decision-making is an elite ritual, a mystery to be performed out of sight of the people, who are allegedly too unenlightened to understand it anyway. They are simply presented with the result and expected to venerate it. Photo: Sergei Bobylyov/Pool/AFP
Julia Ioffe
May 7, 2024

Under gray skies and a wet May snow, Vladimir Putin was inaugurated to his fifth term as Russian president today, though I will be honest and say, I had to look that number up. It is a meaningless one, anyway. What is a presidential term to a man who intends to be king until he dies?

The televised ceremony had cameras catching Putin in his Kremlin office, looking stiltedly at one last document before walking the interminable, carpeted lengths of the Kremlin residence—“austere” and “laconic,” according to commenters on state TV—to a waiting Aurus limousine, which took him a few steps to the grand and gilded Kremlin palace, already crowded with eager guests. Though Putin swore on the Russian constitution to protect the Russian people, there were none of them there today. There were no crowds of supporters, no glad-handing with well-wishers. At no point did Putin leave the walls of the Kremlin, which was designed and built as a fortress, punctuated regularly with archery towers. Today, the walls were made even taller with long poles covered in the Russian tricolor. Beyond them were the trees and the Moscow River. The people’s palace this was not.