Putin vows to unite the nation

MOSCOW, MAY 7. Mr. Vladimir Putin, who was sworn in as Russia's second post- Communist President on Sunday, vowed to unite the nation, uphold democracy and build a free, rich and strong Russia.

Within hours of taking office, Mr. Putin stepped down from his other post of Prime Minister, accepted the resignation of his Cabinet and appointed the First Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Mikhail Kasyanov, as acting Premier. Mr. Putin is also expected to ask the Parliament to approve Mr. Kasyanov as Russia's next Prime Minister. A brief solemn inauguration ceremony was held in an ornate throne hall of the Russian Czars in the Grand Kremlin Palace, where Mr. Putin took a presidential oath on a copy of the 1993 Russian Constitution as his predecessor, Mr. Boris Yeltsin, stood by his side symbolising continuing of power in Russia.

In a short inauguration speech, Mr. Putin stressed that power was changing hands in Russia for the first time in a democratic, legitimate and peaceful process through elections.

``We have proved that Russia is becoming a truly democratic modern state,'' he said drawing a line as it was under the epoch of Mr. Yeltsin, who had swept to power in a coup by dismantling the Soviet Union and staged another coup two years later, sending tanks to shoot down a hostile legislature.

In another departure from the Russian political tradition of rewriting history, Mr. Putin called for respecting the past.

``We must know our history, know it as it really is, draw lessons from it and always remember those who created the Russian state, championed its dignity and made it a great, powerful and mighty state,'' he said. Mr. Putin himself led the way for showing respect for the country's past leaders, by inviting to his inauguration ceremony the former Soviet President, Mr. Mikhail Gorbachev, who was persona non grata at official functions during Mr. Yeltsin's rule.

The late dictator, Joseph Stalin, appears to be another Soviet leader to be brought back from oblivion.

For the first time, Stalin, whose name was all but taboo after his death, appeared on a just minted Russian coin along with the former U.S. President, Mr. Harry Truman, and the former British Prime Minister, Mr. Winston Churchill, to commemorate the 55th anniversary of the Allied victory in World War II.

Stalin's name will also be on a commemorative plaque to be installed at the Kremlin wall this week to honour Soviet military commanders in World War II.

In a further sign of distancing himself from Mr. Yeltsin's era, Mr. Putin indicated he would stay clear of the Kremlin-connected oligarchs who used to wield great political power in recent years.

``I can assure you that in my work I will be guided only by the interests of the state,'' Mr. Putin stressed, vowing to heel deep divisions in Russian society brought about by Mr. Yeltsin's botched economic reforms.

``I consider it my sacred duty to unite the people of Russia behind the clearly-defined tasks and aims and to remember, every minute of every day, that we are one nation and we are one people,'' Russia's new President said.