Russian president promises to serve people faithfully amid tensions with west and domestic discontent over poverty

Vladimir Putin has been sworn in for a fourth presidential term in a lavish Kremlin ceremony as tensions with the west rise and domestic discontent over poverty and wealth inequality simmers.

State television began its live coverage of the inauguration on Monday with Putin, 65, apparently hard at work in his Kremlin office. He then strolled down a long, red-carpeted corridor to a black limousine that whisked him to the nearby Grand Kremlin Palace, the former throne room of Russia's tsars.

Putin was applauded by about 5,000 guests as he entered the palace's ornately decorated Andreyevsky Hall through colossal doors flanked by Kremlin guards. Among the guests were Gerhard Schroder, the former German chancellor, Steven Seagal, the former Hollywood action star who has become close to Russia's political upper-clas, and Alexander Zaldostanov, the leather-clad, tattooed leader of a pro-Putin motorcycle club.

With his hand on a gold-embossed copy of the Russian constitution, Putin swore to serve the Russian people faithfully. He also hailed Moscow's ability to stand up for it interests in the international arena, and what he called Russia's traditional values.

The
Steven Seagal and his wife Erdenetuya arrive at the inauguration. Photograph: Alexei Druzhinin/ Tass

Despite the pomp, the ceremony was relatively low key compared with Putin's return to the Kremlin in 2012, when his black motorcade sped through deserted streets that had been cleared of residents by heavy-handed security forces. A Kremlin banquet to mark the inauguration was reportedly scrapped over anxieties it would lead to public criticism.

Barring a change to the constitution, Putin's fourth term is likely to be his last as chairperson. He recently chuckled off suggestions that he could return to the Kremlin in 2030, when he will be eligible to stand again. Government officials have not discussed the issue of his successor publicly, and analysts say the issue is taboo within the Kremlin walls.

Shortly after the inauguration, Putin put Dmitry Medvedev forward to continue as prime minister, a position he has held since 2012. Accusations of high-level corruption against Medvedev, 52, triggered big opponent protests last year, and 57% of Russians said they were dissatisfied with his work as prime minister in a recent opinion poll. Some analysts suggest Putin's continued support for Medvedev is due to his usefulness as a scapegoat for economic failures.

Since his last inauguration six years ago, Putin has seized Crimea from Ukraine, triggering western economic sanctions, and ordered Russia's military into Syria in its pursuit of President Bashar al-Assad.

Q& A

Does Russia present a believable threat to the UK?

Russia has been a useful bogeyman since its annexation of Crimea in 2014. UK military chiefs were scared when Russia, during an intervention in Ukraine, used a combination of drones and cannon to destroy Ukrainian armour, and raised questions about whether the UK would be able to do much better than the Ukrainians in similar circumstances.

The UK is far enough away for Russia not to pose a territory menace. But UK forces-out are deployed in the Baltic states along with US and other Nato forces as a discouraging in the unlikely event of a Russian landgrab.

Russia does present a threat through hybrid warfare, or the use of deniable acts of disruption- principally cyber-attacks on the UK that could interrupt essential services or interference in the democratic process, such as in elections.

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Just weeks before his election victory in March, Putin presented what he said were Moscow's invincible new nuclear weapon, his bellicose speech accompanied by an animated video that presented Russian warheads falling on Florida. Fyodor Lukyanov, a political analyst who sometimes advises the Kremlin, has described the current standoff with the west as a country of cold war.

Monday's inauguration ceremony came only two days after Russian security forces assisted by Cossack fighters imprisoned hundreds of people, including the opposition leader Alexei Navalny, at an anti-Putin protest in central Moscow. The EU denounced” police brutality and mass arrests”, and international human rights figures demanded an investigation into why Cossacks had been allowed to attack opposition advocates, including with leather whips. Russian opposition media said on monday that Moscow city hall has paid a pro-Kremlin Cossack organisation nearly PS190, 000 to ensure public order in the Russian capital.

Putin, who has ruled Russia for longer than anyone except Joseph Stalin, begins his new six-year term of office as an economic downturn has plunged millions of Russians into poverty.

About 20 million people, or 14% of the population, are living in the poverty line, which is defined as an income of 9,828 roubles( PS115) a month. Real incomes have fallen for a fourth year in a row, and about 3,000 schools, including in deepest Siberia, have no indoor toilets, according to government statistics. Wealth inequality is among the highest in the world, and corruption involving government contracts expenses the country PS2 6bn a year, according to the Moscow-based Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy.

In an opinion poll published by the Levada Centre on Monday, 45% of respondents said they blamed Putin for failing to reduce wealth inequality, and simply over 30% said he had failed to increase pensions and wages. Putin is reportedly preparing to tackle these concerns with an increase in spending on healthcare, education and infrastructure as part of a six-year plan worth 10 tn roubles( PS119bn ).

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Gerhard Schroder, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, and Naina Yeltsina, the widow of Boris Yeltsin. Photograph: Yekaterina Shtukina/ Tass

Russia's economic slump has also entailed an increasingly vicious struggle for resources among the country's government and security apparatus, analysts say. Alexei Ulyukayev, the country's former economy pastor, was jailed for eight years in December on corruption charges that were widely interpreted as a rare occurrence of Kremlin infighting spilling out into the open.

The recent jailing of state security officials on corruption charges is also evidence of” intensified competitor” for financial resources between officials at Russia's interior ministry and the FSB intelligence agency, said Yekaterina Schulmann, a prominent political analyst.

Opposition figures, who accuse Putin of caring only about the economic interests of his friends and family members, reacted with scorn to the former KGB officer's inauguration pledge to serve ordinary Russians.” Putin said Russians will live better, but he didn't say which ones ,” read a popular online joke.

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