Vowing never to let the West defang his proud nation, President Vladimir Putin promised Thursday to fix Russia’s economic woes within two years by diversifying and voiced confidence that the plummeting ruble will soon recover.
In a live, three-hour news conference that has become a Putin holiday tradition, the Russian leader demonstrated unwavering confidence in his domestic policies despite the catastrophic collapse in the ruble. His fierce defiance toward the United States flared throughout as he insisted the West was trying to destroy Russia to grab Siberia’s great natural resources.
This year Putin held his televised extravaganza from a particularly strong vantage point: NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll released Thursday showed his approval rating among Russians stood at 81 percent — a level far above the ratings for other world leaders.
Putin accompanied his message with trademark images of Russian pride, with video showing him surrounded by Sochi Olympic athletes, petting a baby tiger and greeting Russian cosmonauts. And his most stirring quotes evoked a famed Russian symbol — the bear.
In his speech, the man who has led Russia for 15 years sought to soothe market fears that the government could use administrative controls, such as fixing the ruble’s rate or obliging exporters to sell hard currency, to help stabilize the battered currency.
Putin said the nation’s hard currency reserves are sufficient to keep the economy stable, adding the Central Bank should not aimlessly “burn” its $419 billion in reserves.
“Our economy will overcome the current situation. How much time will be needed for that? Under the most unfavorable circumstances, I think it will take about two years,” he said.
Putin also acknowledged that Western economic sanctions over Moscow’s actions in Ukraine were just one factor behind Russia’s economic crisis, estimating they accounted for roughly 25 to 30 percent of the ruble’s troubles. He said a key reason for the currency’s fall was Russia’s failure to ease its overwhelming dependence on oil and gas exports.
This story is compiled with information from the Associated Press.