- - Monday, May 7, 2012

MOSCOW — Vladimir Putin was sworn in as Russian president for a third term Monday, but his return to the Kremlin was marred by a second day of street demonstrations against his rule and the apparent radicalization of the protest movement.

“I consider it to be my life’s meaning and duty to serve my fatherland and our people,” Mr. Putin said in a short speech after taking the presidential oath in a glittering ceremony that also saw him receive a suitcase containing the launch codes for Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

Outside the Kremlin, hundreds of people turned out to protest beyond police barriers before helmeted police officers cracked down on the demonstrators, making 300 arrests. The opposition accuses Mr. Putin, 59, of corruption and a clampdown on political freedoms.

Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was detained for the second time in two days as police dragged people wearing white ribbons - the symbol of the For Fair Elections movement - out of a downtown Moscow cafe.

More than 400 people were arrested on Sunday after hundreds of people at a massive anti-Putin rally near Red Square burst through police lines in a bid to take their discontent to the Kremlin.

About 30 police officers and an unconfirmed number of protesters were injured during sustained fighting. Police clubbed the crowd with nightsticks.

“Now that Putin is back in the Kremlin, I think police are going to be much tougher on any dissent. But as we saw at Sunday’s rally, people are not going to back down. They are going to oppose this,” said protester Alexei Korolyov, 22. “But what this might lead to, I don’t know.”

Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev said the clashes were orchestrated for the benefit of the West, echoing Mr. Putin’s claims in December that the U.S. was encouraging the protest movement.

On Monday, Mr. Putin’s inauguration at the State Kremlin Palace was attended by about 2,000 guests, including Mr. Putin’s predecessor, Dmitry Medvedev; former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev; and Patriarch Kirill, head of the Orthodox Church.

Mr. Putin’s rarely seen wife, Lyudmila, and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi also attended.

“We will achieve our goals if we are a single, united people, if we hold our fatherland dear and strengthen Russian democracy, constitutional rights and freedoms,” Mr. Putin said before nominating Mr. Medvedev to be prime minister.

The Russian Constitution was amended in 2008 to increase the presidential term from four to six years.

Mr. Putin, a former KGB officer who was president from 2000 to 2008, could serve until 2024 if he is re-elected in 2018.

He was forced to step down in 2008 by a constitutional ban on more than two consecutive presidential terms. Mr. Putin shifted to the post of prime minister but remained Russia’s most powerful politician. He won a landslide victory in March elections marred by allegations of vote fraud and by anti-government protests.



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