Patriarch will attend Putin’s inauguration but no date has been set yet.
When Boris Yeltsin was inaugurated in 1991 as the first democratically elected president of Russia, the ceremony was dramatic in its display of defiance toward the Soviet leadership
When Yeltsin was re-elected in 1996 and again inaugurated, the drama centered on whether the ailing president could make it through the shortened ceremony without collapsing.
In May, Vadimir Putin will be inaugurated as Russia's second post-Soviet president in a historic legal and democratic transfer of power in Russia — a transfer seen by many political analysts as significant for its legal symbolism, rather than the drama of the previous two.
"We seriously need the succession of power that is so valued in all democratic states," said Georgy Satarov, a former Yeltsin adviser and now head of the INDEM research institute. "That aside from the fact that an inauguration is always a very significant event celebrated all over the world."
But the Kremlin Department of Protocol was showing little interest in the ceremony when contacted by The Russia Journal.
"We have so many vital events and visits to think about at the moment, and this ceremony is quite distant – all the more so since the date for it has still not been set," a Kremlin spokesman said. "We are aiming for May 5, as [Central Election Commission head Alexander] Veshyakov promised to announce the official [election] results on April 5," he added.
According to the constitution, a new president must be sworn in within a month after the announcement of final election results.
But the CEC is still refusing to confirm the final date. CEC spokesman Alexei Kuznetsov explained that the commission preferred not to name the specific date until its office had received all of the election results.
"The official announcement requires 100 percent of the ballots, and it is impossible to say exactly when all of them will be in," Kuznetsov said. "At the moment, the main impediment is the wait for the results from Chechnya and a few remote districts."
Whatever the exact date, one of the more important guests will be the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, Alexei II. He has participated in the previous two inaugurations, with the first being particularly significant, as it represented the church's return to official status.
"This does not signify the Orthodox Church penetrating state activity, but rather it is recognition of the historical significance of the Church. So the Patriarch will bless the president," said Viktor Malukhin, head of the Moscow Patriarchy Press Office.
He added that representatives of all the faiths historically represented in Russia would attend, but he defended the leading position of the Orthodox Church.
"It relates to historical tradition and statistics [the number of people who classify themselves as belonging to a religion]," Malukhin said. "And, as I understand it, all [the faiths represented] have agreed that the Patriarch's blessing will be taken as a sort of blessing on behalf of all believers in Russia."
As to Putin's professed Orthodox belief and the Patriarch blessing him at the inauguration, Malukhin dismissed suggestions that Putin might be excluding a large portion of the population, saying the president's faith only added to the occasion.
"It is common knowledge that he [Putin] is an Orthodox believer. He even came for the Patriarch's blessing," he said. "That wasn't to some commentator's taste. They argue that Putin should be president of all the people and not just Orthodox believers."
"But that is just demagoguery," Malukhin added. "A president should be sincere and honest, and if he is Orthodox as well, that's very good, too."
Spiritual matters aside, in democratic states, an inauguration officially marks the legal transfer of power, and to INDEM's Satarov, this is its primary significance, especially in a young democracy like Russia's. Pageantry aside, he says there are a couple of essential elements to the inauguration of a president.
"First and essential is the presence at the ceremony of the representative of all of the branches of power – executive, legislative, judicial and so forth," he said. "The second important issue is that the ceremony be accessible for the public. Everybody should have the opportunity to see the new Russian president being sworn in," he added, referring to the "sense of ownership a people should have for its democratic government."
This will be in slight contrast to Yeltsin in 1996, Satarov, then a presidential adviser, said. At that time, the overriding preoccupation was whether Yeltsin would make it through the ceremony.
"Boris Nikolayevich was seriously ill. He had to go to hospital soon after [the inaguration] to prepare for his operation, and everybody was more anxious about whether he would make it through the ceremony than they were about the event itself. He said he believes this time it will be more about the development of institutions, and added that Yeltsin's attendance at the ceremony would further enhance that.
"I can suggest he will be there but, of course, it will depend on his health," Satarov added. "But if he manages to come, it will be very important, as it will strengthen the sense of ceremony and the significance of the fact that this is legal transfer of power in a democratic Russia."
But will Russia's first president, who has only appeared in public a couple of times since his resignation on New Year's Eve, make it to the ceremony?
"I think Boris Nikolayevich [Yeltsin] will participate in the inauguration. Why not?" said Dmitry Yakushkin, press secretary to Russia's first president. "All the more, his presence at the ceremony will be very significant.
"But, frankly speaking, I haven't thought about it yet," he added.