Vladimir Putin vows to boost Russian economy as he begins 4th term

MOSCOW — Vladimir Putin on Monday launched his fourth term as president with an ambitious call to vault Russia into the top five global economies by developing its technological products and agricultural exports.

Putin, who has sought to restore Russia's military and diplomatic prominence on the world stage, focused almost entirely on domestic issues in his speech after taking the oath of office in a vast, vaulted Kremlin hall glittering with gold leaf.

Improving the economy following a recession partly linked to international sanctions will be a primary goal of his next six-year term, Putin said.

"Russia should be modern and dynamic, it should be ready to accept the call of the times," he said in his inauguration speech to thousands of guests standing in three halls of the Grand Kremlin Palace.

Putin later issued an extensive decree calling for "acceleration of the technological development of the Russian Federation" and "creation of a high-performance export-oriented sector in the basic sectors of the economy, primarily in manufacturing and the agro-industrial sector."

The 65-year-old former KGB agent, who has led Russia for all of the 21st century either as president or prime minister, has been criticized for inadequate efforts to diversify the economy from its dependence on oil and gas exports or develop the manufacturing sector.

Russia's economy was hit hard by low world oil prices and sanctions connected to Moscow's 2014 annexation of Crimea and military involvement in the separatist uprising in eastern Ukraine, with the ruble losing half its value between 2014 and 2016.

The country recorded an anemic improvement in 2017, with gross domestic product rising 1.5 percent and the ruble recovering some of its value. But the currency dropped about 8 percent again last month after new U.S. sanctions.

In the decree, he foresaw Russia becoming one of the world's top five economies by the end of his term in 2024. That would require boosting GDP by some 50 percent; Russia currently places about 12th in rankings of world economies.

Putin made only a brief reference to global affairs in his speech, saying "Russia is a strong, active, influential participant in international life. The security and defense capability of the country is reliably ensured. We will give these matters the necessary constant attention."

He acknowledged that the challenges facing Russia were formidable "but we all remember well that, for more than 1,000 years of history, Russia has often faced epochs of turmoil and trials, and has always revived as a Phoenix, reached heights that others could not."

Putin was re-elected in March with 77 percent of the vote.

He became acting president on New Year's Eve 1999 following the surprise resignation of Boris Yeltsin and won election to his first four-year term in 2000. Re-elected in 2004, he left office in 2008 because of term limits, but was named prime minister and continued to steer the country from that office. He returned as president in 2012 when the post was extended to six years.

Monday's pomp-filled inauguration was covered in assiduous detail on state television. It showed Putin working at his desk in his shirt sleeves, then donning a suit coat to begin a long, solitary walk through the corridors of the Kremlin's Senate building before boarding a limousine for a short drive to the Grand Kremlin Palace.

Thousands of guests stood in the three halls for the inauguration. One of the most prominent was former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who is now chairman of Russia's state oil company Rosneft and one of the most prominent Western voices arguing for an end to sanctions against Russia.

Schroeder stood with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, and Putin prominently shook hands with him after the speech.

After the ceremony, Putin issued an order formally dissolving the Cabinet but nominated Medvedev to serve again as prime minister. The pro-Putin United Russia party that dominates the parliament said it would back Medvedev in a vote Tuesday, Russian news agencies reported.

Medvedev in turn made nominations for several deputy prime ministers, notably including Finance Minister Anton Siluanov as first deputy premier.