Vladimir Putin thanks soldiers 'fighting for motherland' as he is inaugurated for fifth time

Vladimir Putin has thanked soldiers "fighting for our motherland" in Ukraine - as he was sworn in as Russian president for a fifth time.

At a ceremony in the gilded Grand Kremlin Palace, Mr Putin placed his hand on the Russian constitution and vowed to defend it as a crowd of hand-picked dignitaries looked on.

An artillery salute marked the end of the official presidential inauguration, and as he left the palace to the sound of the Russian national anthem, a round of applause erupted from those in the audience.

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Tuesday's inauguration marks the start of another six years at the top for Mr Putin, 71.

He is already the Kremlin's longest-serving leader since Joseph Stalin, having been in power for nearly two-and-a-half decades - 20 years as president, four as prime minister.

By the end of this term, only Catherine the Great will be ahead of him - she ruled Russia way back in the 18th century.

His new term does not expire until 2030, when he will be constitutionally eligible to run again.

When he succeeded Boris Yeltsin in 1999, Russia was emerging from economic collapse.

Under his leadership, most notably since the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, the country has become a pariah state that threatens global security, reliant on regimes like China, Iran and North Korea for support.

Russia's enormous advantage in resources has gradually turned the tide in Ukraine in Moscow's favour, but both sides have been suffering heavy casualties.

Following his widely-anticipated re-election in March, Mr Putin suggested a confrontation between NATO and Russia was possible, and he declared he wanted to carve out a buffer zone in Ukraine to protect his country from cross-border attacks.

With major changes at home and abroad over the past two years, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the circumstances do not make it more important to give the public the right to speak out.

"It needs tougher measures to ensure the victory, to ensure that we reach our goals," he told Sky News, when asked if Russians should not have more say during a war.

He insisted that is a democratic stance in "the same circumstances Western media exists in Europe and the US" and denied Mr Putin has made the country a dictatorship.

"This is not the case absolutely, absolutely, it's just propaganda, it's rough propaganda, nothing else," he added.

"So, we are living in our country, in our own environment and it's purely democratic. We choose our power. We elect our power. We elect our president."

As the country's economy remains on a war footing, analysts say that, with another term in office secured, the Kremlin could take the unpopular steps of raising taxes to fund the war and pressure more men to join the military.

The repression that has characterised Mr Putin's time in office continued when his greatest political foe, opposition leader Alexei Navalny, died in an Arctic penal colony in February.

Mr Peskov told Sky News opposition remains in the country, but added "of course the conditions are much more tough around here because we are in war conditions".

Other prominent critics have either been imprisoned or have fled the country, and even some of his opponents abroad fear for their security.

Laws have been promising long prison terms for anyone who discredits the military.

The Kremlin also targets independent media, rights groups, LGBTQ+ activists and others who do not adhere to what Mr Putin has emphasised as Russia's "traditional family values".

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Sky News' international affairs editor Dominic Waghorn said Mr Putin "has taken a country that was emerging from communism and economic collapse towards reform and reintegration into the international community, and he's turned it in a pariah state threatening global security while he and his kleptocracy have stolen billions".

He added: "In his inauguration speech, Putin said Russia stands united [but] an estimated 900,000 Russians have voted with their feet and left the country since his invasion of Ukraine."