President Medvedev Stresses the Law

ReutersMedvedev being sworn in Wednesday in a ceremony held in the Andreyevsky Hall of the Great Kremlin Palace.
In his first speech as head of state, newly inaugurated President Dmitry Medvedev vowed Wednesday to strengthen the rule of law and to bring as many Russians as possible into the middle class.

As he addressed more than 2,000 VIP guests who had gathered in the Great Kremlin Palace for the pomp-filled inauguration ceremony, Medvedev also said he would rely in office on the continued support of his predecessor, Vladimir Putin.

He carried through on his words less than three hours later by nominating Putin as prime minister, fulfilling a promise he made in December. The State Duma is expected to confirm Putin's nomination in a special session Thursday.

"I give heartfelt thanks to President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin for his constant, personal support, which I have always felt," Medvedev said. "I am certain this will continue going forward."

Describing the eight years of Putin's presidency as a "strong foundation" for growth, Medvedev said his priorities would include defending civil rights and raising living standards.

"I fully understand how much needs to be done," he said, "to make the state genuinely fair and attentive to citizens and to guarantee the highest living standards, so as many people as possible can join the middle class, get a good education and quality health care services."

Returning to a theme from his election campaign, Medvedev promised to strengthen rule of law, which he said was necessary to stop corruption and encourage growth.

"We must achieve true respect for the law and overcome legal nihilism, which seriously interferes with development today," he said, singling out the problem as one that needed "special attention."

A lawyer by training, Medvedev first used the term "legal nihilism" in a January speech that marked the beginning of his election campaign. Boosting the rule of law was also a favorite Kremlin theme during the early years of Putin's presidency, when Putin called for a "dictatorship of the law."

Putin appeared somber throughout much of Wednesday's ceremony. State television showed him arriving in a small motorcade and walking alone through the Kremlin's Cathedral Square toward the Great Kremlin Palace.

He summed up his legacy in a short farewell speech, which he gave immediately before Medvedev was sworn in.

"Yes, our work was not without its failures and mistakes, but we managed to achieve serious, concrete results and effect a breakthrough to a new way of life," Putin said.

"Today we are forming goals and tasks not for one or two months ahead, but for 20 to 30 years ahead; we are taking on major problems, and I am absolutely convinced that we can handle them, but only with your active, direct participation and support," he said. "Thank you."

Putin's words were met with applause. Cameras cut to the outgoing first lady, Lyudmila Putina, who appeared gloomy and was looking down at the floor — a sharp contrast to the beaming expression on the face of Medvedev's wife, Svetlana, who was standing beside her.

Putin ended his speech by wishing Medvedev good luck and telling the audience: "Support him."

The audience seemed more supportive of Putin, however, breaking out into applause three times during Putin's speech, then standing quietly through Medvedev's address and applauding only when it was over.

State television reported that more than 2,000 guests were invited to the Kremlin for the inauguration, including State Duma deputies, governors, Cabinet ministers, religious leaders and foreign ambassadors.

Patriarch Alexy II and outgoing Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov stood at the front of Andreyevsky Hall, the lavish tsarist-era throne room where Medvedev was sworn in.

Other guests in the standing-room-only crowd were huddled in nearby Alexandrovsky and Georgiyevsky Halls, where they watched the proceedings on television screens and could only glimpse Medvedev as he came and went, walking along a red carpet.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, film director Nikita Mikhalkov and St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko were among the guests.

State television pulled out all the stops in its coverage, using aerial cameras to show Medvedev's motorcade arriving in the Kremlin and even filming the gears inside the famed clock in the Spassky Tower during the countdown to noon, when the inauguration was scheduled to start.

Medvedev's motorcade — consisting of a Mercedes limousine flanked by two bulky sport utility vehicles and a swarm of motorcycles — entered the Kremlin through the rarely used Spassky Tower gates, which face Red Square.

The president-elect stepped out of his limo, entered the Great Kremlin Palace and walked down the red carpet to Andreyevsky Hall, where he took the stage with Putin, Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov, State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov and Constitutional Court Chairman Valery Zorkin.

Once Zorkin had sworn in Medvedev, an orchestra played the Russian anthem. At the end of the ceremony, Medvedev and Putin walked back to Cathedral Square and watched the presidential honor guard marching past them in full regalia.

Standing next to one another, Medvedev and Putin appeared to be the same height on television even though the new president is shorter.

In his first afternoon as president, Medvedev attended a church service led by the patriarch, submitted Putin's nomination, signed a decree for the development of housing construction and received the launch codes to Russia's strategic nuclear arsenal.

Gryzlov told reporters Wednesday afternoon of the plans for the special State Duma session to confirm Putin as prime minister.

In line with a decision last month by the United Russia party, Putin automatically became its chairman upon leaving office Wednesday. With the party holding a commanding majority in the Duma, there was little doubt he would be confirmed.

In another key reshuffle, Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller will chair the company's board of directors until a new board is elected on June 27, RIA-Novosti reported, citing a company spokesman.

Miller replaces Medvedev, who had been chairman at Gazprom since 2002.