On May 7, 2018, Vladimir Putin was sworn in for his fourth term in office as Russia's president. Two days prior to the inauguration, mass protest demonstrations took place throughout Russia under the slogan: "He's not our Tsar". Protesters were attacked and 1,600 protesters, including Alexey Navalny, the demonstrations' organizer, were detained nationwide.
Seemingly oblivious to the irony, Putin used the ceremony to pay tribute to Russia's "responsible civil society". He said: "Friends, this year we will be marking the 25th anniversary of the Russian Constitution. It stresses the unconditional primacy and priority of the rights and freedoms of Russian citizens. It is the harmony between free individuals, responsible civil society and a strong, active and democratic state that creates a solid foundation for the development of Russia."
Nevertheless, some pro-Kremlin commentators stressed that Putin's speech was characterized by a propitiatory liberal tone.
Political scientist Yevgeny Minchenko said that Putin's speech was "a very liberal address in not so liberal times." According to Minchenko, Putin's "liberal address" will be followed by reshuffles in the government and presidential administration. "It would be weird to combine such an address with a conservative personnel policy," opined Minchenko.
Political science professor Vladimir Slatinov, a member of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration Russia, also commented: "I can't say that Putin's speech was absolutely liberal, but the focus was on internal affairs. Direct liberal values were not announced, yet the values of freedom were highlighted in Putin's speech."Slatinov believed that the change of tone reflected Putin's awareness that broadened individual and societal freedom were a precondition for accelerated development. 
Mikhail Remizov, President of the Institute of National Strategy, further noted: "There was an apparent intention to avoid some sort of alarmism, related to the international context in which Russia is currently involved. The president does not want to stir up and scare the voters once more, who in any case are overly intimidated by the press. Thus, [Putin's speech] was an attempt to smooth out and normalize the psychological climate, the psychological background."
It is worth noting that contrary to some expectations, Putin has again nominated Dmitry Medvedev to serve as Russia's prime minister.
Following the inauguration, Russian newspaper Vedomosti published an unflattering economic and political overview of Putin's third term.
- The number of designated "foreign agents", operating in Russia has grown to 160 in 2017 as compared to only one such designated entity in 2013.
- 52% and 47% of the population express negative attitudes towards the U.S. and Ukraine respectively as compared to 81% and 64% in 2015. However, at the start of Putin's third term the figures were 40% and 25%.
- 244,092 criminal investigations were launched against business companies in 2017 as compared to 155,234 criminal investigations launched in 2012.
- The annual military budget per year has tripled itself in absolute ruble figures since 2012. In 2012 the budget was 0.95 trillion rubles, 2016-3.8 trillion rubles, 2017 – 2.9 trillion rubles.
- Back in 2012, Russia's share in overall world trade was 2.39%, by 2017 it had dropped to 1.7%
- Between 2012 to 2017, the Russian ruble was devalued almost twofold against the U.S. dollar and the Euro in 2017 as compared to 2012.
- Outflow of capital from Russia: 2012 – US$53.9 billion; 2014 – $152.1 billion; 2017 – $24.8 billion.
- Population below the poverty level: 2012- 10.7% of the population, 2017 – 13.8%.
Below are excerpts from Putin's inaugural address:
I Will Devote My Life And My Work To Serving The People And Our Fatherland
Vladimir Putin: "Citizens of Russia, ladies and gentlemen, friends,
"I salute all the citizens of our great nation and compatriots living abroad, all those who are watching the broadcast of this ceremony and all those present here today, in the historic halls of the Kremlin and on the ancient Cathedral Square.
"As I am about to take office as the President of Russia, I am keenly aware of the immense responsibility towards each and every one of you, and towards our entire multi-ethnic nation. I am aware of my responsibility towards Russia, a country of magnificent victories and accomplishments, towards the history of the Russian state that goes back centuries and towards our ancestors. Their courage, relentless work, undefeatable unity, and the way they sanctified their homeland are eternal examples of their dedication to their Fatherland.
"I believe that it is my duty and the meaning of my entire life to do everything for Russia, its present and future, to ensure that it is peaceful and prosperous, to preserve and perpetuate our great people, and bring prosperity to every household in Russia. Let me assure you that just as before I will devote my life and my work to serving the people and our Fatherland. This is my outmost aspiration.
"I would like to thank the citizens of Russia for their unity, for believing that together we can change many things for the better. Let me extend my gratitude to you one more time. Thank you for the sincere support I received from the citizens of Russia at the presidential election. I view this support as a huge political asset and a reliable moral backing. This support is a sign of faith and a sign of hope that Russia will continue to build up its strength while its people will live better. This support is also essential for asserting our positions on the international stage and for taking resolute action for promoting far-reaching, positive change within the country.
"Russia must be a modern and vibrant country ready to take up the challenges of time and respond to them with all its energy in order to consistently build up its leadership in areas where our positions have been traditionally strong. At the same time, we need to work with confidence and diligence and to harness all our willpower in areas where we have yet to achieve the results we aspire to, where a lot has yet to be done.
"The way forward is never easy. It is always a challenging journey. But there is only one thing history never forgives: indifference and inconsistency, slackness and complacency, which rings especially true today, at this turning point in history, as the entire world is undergoing rapid change.
"The objectives we face and the decisions we will be called upon to take are without exaggeration historic in their scale. They will determine the future of our Fatherland for decades to come. We have a lot of hard work ahead of us that will require the entire Russian society to come together. Every one of us, all responsible political forces and civil society movements, united by the fact that they sincerely care for Russia, must be proactive in these efforts.
"We need breakthroughs in all areas of life. I strongly believe that only a free society that is open to all new and cutting-edge advances, while rejecting injustice, ignorance, crass conservatism and bureaucratic red tape, is callable of achieving these breakthroughs. We must cast aside everything that constrains people, prevents them from fully unleashing their potential and their talents, becoming a barrier for the development of the entire nation.
"Friends, this year we will be marking the 25th anniversary of the Russian Constitution. It stresses the unconditional primacy and priority of the rights and freedoms of Russian citizens. It is the harmony between free individuals, responsible civil society and a strong, active and democratic state that creates a solid foundation for the development of Russia.
"We have coped with the most difficult economic and social problems. We have realized that, while changing with the world, we should not break away from our own roots, our own history and multinational culture. We have understood that all our beauty and strength are in our distinctness and unity. We have learned to uphold our interests and revived pride in our homeland and our traditional values. Experience shows that today, too, we must cherish what has been achieved and, based on this to move only forward.
"Of course, we should keep pace with the global changes and organize our breakthrough development agenda so that no obstacles or circumstances could prevent us from determining our future on our own and only on our own and from implementing our boldest plans and dreams. But at the same time, we are open to dialogue. Along with our partners, we will actively promote our integration projects and build up business, humanitarian, cultural and scientific ties.
"We are in favor of equitable and mutually beneficial cooperation with all states in the interests of peace and stability on our planet.
'Not All The Wounds Of The Past Have Been Healed Yet
"Russia is a strong, active and influential participant in international life; the country’s security and defense capability are reliably assured. We will continue to pay the necessary, close attention to these issues.
"But now, we must use all the opportunities available to us primarily to address the most vital domestic development objectives, to achieve an economic and technological breakthrough, and to enhance competitiveness in the spheres that determine the future. A new quality of life, wellbeing, security and health are what constitutes our main goals and the focus of our policies. Our reference point is Russia for the people, a country of opportunities for self-fulfillment for each person.
"I strongly believe that everyday challenges people face and demands they have are directly linked to the goals we have as a nation. In fact, this is the only way to put in place the needed conditions for promoting creativity and development, and creating an atmosphere of shared responsibility, support and trust in society, which is essential.
"Every person must understand that only our proactive engagement in the country’s affairs can add new momentum to renewal. No one will do it for us, since all of us, the citizens of Russia, are the main force of change.
"The more people in all walks of life, professions and authority realize the importance of the role they must play in improving how we live, the more effective and rapid will our progress be.
"State and municipal authorities have a special responsibility. People have every right to expect matters that cause them concern to be resolved without delay, to have their proposals, observations and demands treated with due attention, so that such things as reputation, honor, generosity and openness become a norm of life for the officials at all levels of government.
"We must give more freedom to entrepreneurs and researchers, to creative and active people who care, and to all who want to reinvent the world. For me, this is a guarantee of continuity in our strategy and efforts to promote steady development in Russia. I look forward to novel ideas and approaches, to the audacity of young people and their ability to lead the change.
"I hope that young people will remain true to the values of truth and justice that guided the older generation, and that the knowledge, experience and wisdom of the preceding generations will be relevant for today’s young.
"By having all people who care for their country and its future work together we will definitely deliver on our objectives and achieve breakthroughs in research and technology. Together, we can bring to fruition large-scale initiatives to upgrade and improve cities and villages and develop regions across Russia. We will be proactive in conducting a modern social policy that caters to the needs of every individual and every Russian household, improves the quality of education and healthcare. We will pay special attention to supporting the traditional family values, motherhood and childhood, so that more and more wanted and healthy babies are born in Russia who go on to become smart and talented people. It will be they, our children, who will take up our efforts to develop the country, and achieve even greater success than their parents, while respecting the history of our Fatherland.
"As head of state I will do everything to build up Russia’s might, prosperity and glory, and to live up to the expectations and hopes of the country’s citizens.
"We know that in the 1990s and early 2000s, apart from the far-reaching and necessary historical changes, our homeland and its people went through harsh challenges. Much, though far from all has been restored. Not all the wounds of the past have been healed yet, not all challenges have been overcome. There are new complex tasks ahead of us, and we will have to work hard to deliver on them. We have to act without delay.
"That said, we remember all too well that throughout its history, which reaches back centuries, Russia faced a number of dark periods and challenges, and rose like a phoenix from the ashes every time, achieving heights that seemed unattainable to others. Those challenges served as a stepping stone for Russia, setting the stage for the next major breakthrough.
I am confident that we will achieve a breakthrough this time as well, since we are a powerful team that can deliver on any tasks, even the most daunting ones. Let the love for the Fatherland and all the best there is in people inspire each and every one of us to improve ourselves in order to succeed as individuals and for the benefit of our families, and to work hard for the benefit of our homeland.
"There is no doubt that we will succeed! This is what I believe. I will do everything in my power to achieve this.
Appendix I – Putin's Meeting With Government Members; Kremlin.ru, May 7, 2018
Putin: "Mr. Medvedev, friends, colleagues,
"I would like to start by thanking you for our joint work and delivering on the objectives Russia has had before it.
"The past six years were very busy, packed with new challenges and extraordinary developments both in Russia and around the world.
"The Government and the executive in general faced a broad range of issues and matters, from current affairs to non-standard and often emergency situations. We had to act with resolve and consistency, be ready to assume responsibility and implement the decisions that were taken based on up-to-date approaches.
"There is no doubt that you have lived up to this task. Your work as a team was laudable, which is of course due to a large extent to the efforts by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
"What matters the most is that all these years the country has been developing. The country did not just respond to the challenges that emerged along the way but moved forward and broadened its opportunities. Specific undertakings, projects and initiatives to develop the economy, social protection, defense, security and public governance all added up to form the potential for quality changes, enabling us to articulate new, even more ambitious goals.
"The Government was guided in its work by the May 2012 executive orders. Yes, there were challenges in this area, and not all indicators were achieved in full. This is inevitable when you engage on a large-scale and long-term project. But the situation was constantly changing, creating new objective factors. Let me reiterate that we do see tangible results and momentum. Change is underway. We have set the strategic development vector on the right path.
"As I said in my Address, life expectancy is an integral indicator showing not only the development of a country but showing people’s well-being too. It has been increasing in Russia over the past years. This is a sign of qualitative changes when it comes to healthcare, education as well as the way housing and other problems are addressed.
"New opportunities for people, for Russian families include additional demographic development measures, a program to relocate residents from dilapidated housing, almost a hundred percent availability of kindergartens, and the nationwide network of Multifunctional Service Centers which deliver modern and comfortable public services to citizens.
"Other key results are the growth of wages in the public sector, enhanced prestige of the jobs of teachers, doctors and workers in other spheres that are crucial for the country’s future. Pay in these fields must grow.
"Generally speaking our key task for the coming years is a sustained increase of people’s real incomes. A solid basis for this exists. The economy has become more stable, it has coped with the sharp drop of oil prices, the attempts to bring pressure through sanctions as well as global market fluctuations.
"The government has overcome the economic slump and achieved recovery and revival in many sectors. On the whole the economy is entering a growth trajectory.
"We have managed not only to ensure stability and effectively create a new low-inflation macro-economic reality. This is the most important joint achievement of the Government and the Central Bank of the Russian Federation which paves the way for further development, launching of major infrastructure and industrial projects and, coupled with measures to improve the business climate, for the work of small and medium-sized businesses.
"And of course, a special mention should be made of the Government’s work to integrate Crimea and Sevastopol in the country’s socioeconomic space, and prompt solution of the problems that the people in the region face.
"A distinctive feature of this Government is openness and readiness for dialogue, constructive interaction with the parliament and the regions, reliance on the civil society, the building of feedback mechanisms and the commitment to broadening people’s participation in the country’s affairs.
"It is important to preserve and develop such modern approaches and in general ensure continuity and consistency in the country’s development, as well as put in place a clear-cut schedule during the period the new government is being formed. I count on your support, responsibility and professionalism.
"I would like to once again thank Prime Minister Medvedev, his deputies, ministers, and the heads of government departments, the Government staff for their teamwork, dedication, responsibility and diligent work.
"Thank you for your attention. Thank you."