Fri, Dec 19, 2014 - Page 1 News List

Putin vows rapid economic recovery, digs in on Ukraine

RUSSIAN BEAR:Putin compared NATO to an ‘empire’ that treats other nations as ‘vassals,’ and said Russia is like a bear that is fighting to survive

AFP, MOSCOW

Russian President Vladimir Putin, back center, yesterday speaks at his annual year-end news conference in Moscow.

Photo: Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday tried to quell fears of economic collapse and promised rapid recovery from the worst financial crisis of his rule, but stressed that his position on Ukraine has not shifted.

Speaking at an annual news conference, the Russian leader said that the economic downturn would last two years at most and promised to support the poorest section of the population.

However, he said the economic gloom has not swayed his stance on Ukraine, accusing the West of behaving like an “empire” and even comparing Russia to a bear which is under attack and fighting for survival.

Following the ruble’s record fall in value this week, reaching 60 percent since the beginning of the year, Putin assured Russians that the economic downturn would last two years at most.

“It goes without saying that a way out of this situation is inevitable,” he said, promising to “focus attention on helping people who need it most.”

He added that efforts by the central bank and government — including a record hike of the key interest rate and spending billions to stabilize the ruble — have been “absolutely reasonable and in the right direction,” although they could have come quicker.

Putin had remained silent earlier this week on the ruble crash, which led Russians to rush to exchange their savings and splurge at stores to dump their devaluing national currency.

The marathon news conference, held in a trade center in Moscow, saw Putin face hundreds of journalists from across Russia. More than 1,200 had signed up to attend, according to the Kremlin.

Putin said that Western sanctions over Moscow’s involvement in the conflict in Ukraine contributed “25 to 30 percent” to the current economic situation.

However, he made clear that his position on Ukraine has not changed, branding Kiev’s military campaign against Russian-backed rebels in the east a “punitive operation.”

He said the West is targeting Moscow not because of the annexation of Crimea and support for the rebels, but because of its “wish to survive as a nation, as a civilization, as a state.”

He compared the situation to attackers trying to capture a bear.

“As soon as he is chained, they will pull his teeth and claws,” Putin said, referring to Russia’s need to retain a nuclear deterrent. “Then the bear won’t be needed at all — they will make a stuffed dummy out of it.”

“Do we want to remain intact and fight ... or do we want our hide to be put on the wall?” Putin asked.

He compared NATO to an “empire” that treats other countries as “vassals who need to be vanquished.”

Asked whether he could lose the support of the elites and be ousted in a so-called palace coup, Putin said: “Calm down.”

“We don’t have palaces, therefore we cannot have a palace coup. We have the Kremlin official residence, it’s well-protected, and this is also a factor of our state stability,” he said.

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