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Putin marks inaugural with ride in huge Russian-made limousine

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President Vladimir Putin ditched his old stretch Mercedes for a Russian-made limousine as he traveled to his inauguration on Monday for a new six-year term, sending a message of Russian self-sufficiency to friends and foes alike.

Putin, in power since 2000, wants Russia to reduce its dependence on imported goods and technology, a drive that has gathered pace since Russia was hit by Western sanctions.

Some guests broke into applause at the sight of the car conveying Putin the short distance from his office to the Kremlin hall for the inauguration, Russian news agencies said.

“It’s cooler than (U.S. President Donald) Trump’s,” one guest was quoted as saying by the RIA news agency.

Putin has in the past publicly driven Russian-made cars in front of television cameras in an effort to nurture patriotism and support the domestic auto industry.

Monday marked the first public outing of the new limousine, part of the “Kortezh” series of cars which is also expected to include a sedan, minivan and offroad vehicle.

Under development since 2012, the limousine is being produced by a Russian research institute known by the acronym NAMI, and will be distributed in partnership with Russian carmaker Sollers.

The new limousine is set to become heir to the Russian-made ZIL sedans that for decades transported Soviet leaders.

Trade Minister Denis Manturov said state officials would be able to switch to Kortezh vehicles when enough of them became available, TASS news agency reported.

The Ministry of Trade said the cars would be marketed under the brand Aurus and made available for sale from the beginning of 2019, RIA reported.

In his inauguration address, Putin said technological innovation and research were essential for Russia’s future to keep pace with global change.

Putin’s last six-year term has been marked by a sharp downturn in relations with the West over conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, accusations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, and allegations of poisoning of a former Russian spy in England. Moscow denies meddling in the elections or poisoning the spy.