MOSCOW, May 7 (RIA Novosti) - Dmitry Medvedev was inaugurated as Russia's third president on Wednesday in a glittering and solemn ceremony in front of some 2,500 guests at the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow as Vladimir Putin stepped down after eight years as head of state.
The inauguration ceremony began at 11:45 a.m. Moscow time (07:45 GMT) and after the outgoing Putin had made a short speech, Medvedev swore an oath on a copy of the Russian Constitution. He then addressed the assembled dignitaries as Russia's new president. The entire ceremony was shown live on national television and the Internet.
Medvedev swore to "respect and protect human and civil rights," as well as to "observe and defend the Constitution of the Russian Federation, its sovereignty and independence, security and integrity."
He said the development of civil and economic freedoms in Russia would be a priority during his presidency.
"They [rights and freedoms] are of the highest value and define the essence of state activities. The most important task is to further develop civil and economic freedoms and to create new civil opportunities," Medvedev said after being sworn in as president of Russia and after the Russian national anthem had been jointly performed by an orchestra and a choir.
"I wish Dmitry Medvedev luck and success in the post of president of the Russian Federation," Putin said.
Medvedev also stated that Russia should ensure that the law is respected and attempt to overcome what he called "legal nihilism". He also pledged to "do everything to ensure that the security of [Russian] citizens is not simply guaranteed by law, but is actually ensured by the state."
Russia's new president and his predecessor then stepped out of the Kremlin Palace into the Kremlin's central Cathedral Square. Medvedev, after a cannon salute, then inspected a parade of the Presidential Regiment, of which he is now commander-in-chief.
The current Russian government has formally resigned and Putin is to become the country's new premier on May 8. He has also become the head of the ruling United Russia party.
Forty-two-year-old Medvedev was nominated as a presidential candidate by United Russia and three other smaller pro-Kremlin parties in December. Putin later said on national television: "I have known Dmitry Medvedev well for over 17 years, and I completely and fully support his candidature."
Medvedev, a trained lawyer, worked under Putin in St. Petersburg in the early 1990s, when the man who would later become Russia's second president was the city's first deputy mayor. In 1999, in Moscow, Medvedev was appointed acting deputy chief of the presidential staff.
He also headed Putin's campaign headquarters in the run-up to the 2000 elections. In 2003, he became chief of the presidential administration and retained the post until November 2005, when he was appointed first deputy prime minister and put in charge of an ambitious multi-billion dollar "national project" to improve living standards.
The endorsement of the popular Putin ensured Medvedev a landslide victory in the March 2 elections, but has also left question marks over the nature of the president-elect's position, with many analysts predicting that Putin will remain the real leader of the world's largest country.
However, Putin has dismissed rumors of plans to give extra powers to the premier, saying in March that, "There is no need to change anything regarding this. The prime minister has sufficient powers."
Medvedev also said after being elected that he had no intention of redistributing powers between the president and the prime minister upon taking over at the Kremlin.
Speaking to the Financial Times in an interview last March, he said he was convinced his partnership with Putin would prove effective, and would not lead to a power struggle.
Despite all the reassurances that the Putin-Medvedev 'tandem' will be able not only to co-exist, but also work together, many Russian and foreign political commentators are at a loss as to explain exactly how this 'power-sharing' will work in practice.
However, ordinary Russians seem sure that ultimate power will remain with Putin, with more than two thirds of respondents stating in a poll carried out by the Levada Center in April that they believed the former KGB officer would "control" his hand-picked successor.
Putin's second term saw a rise in tensions with the West, as a resurgent Russia, awash with oil dollars, looked to reestablish itself as a global power. Moscow has strongly stated its opposition to NATO expansion and U.S. plans for a missile defense shield in central Europe.
However, unlike Putin, Medvedev has no links to Russia's 'siloviki,' representatives of the country's security and defense agencies.
Despite this, Putin has already said that the West will find Medvedev, seen as a pro-business moderate, no 'easier' to deal with.
"He is no less, in the best sense of the word, a Russian nationalist than I am. I don't think that our partners will find things easier with him," Putin said, adding that, "He is a real patriot, and will actively uphold Russia's interests on the global stage."
Many foreign political analysts also predicted that Medvedev would stay faithful to Putin's foreign policies, in the early days of his presidency at least.
"In my opinion, Medvedev will continue Putin's policy for the first year," Aleksander Kvasniewski, the former president of Poland told RIA Novosti, adding that, "But the following year I think that Medvedev will become more independent."
An attempt by the Other Russia opposition coalition movement to hold a protest rally on the eve of Medvedev's inauguration was prevented by police in Moscow on Tuesday. The opposition has called the March elections that brought Medvedev to power "a farce."
Seven thousand police officers are on duty on Wednesday in the capital to ensure law and order on the streets before, during, and after the inauguration ceremony.
Political change in Russia rarely comes easily, and as a light snow fell over Moscow on Wednesday morning after days of glorious sunshine, the cold snap only served to remind that in Russia it is not only the weather that remains unpredictable.