Reuters –President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday Russia's economy could return to growth in less than two years, even though he considers it unlikely that the West will lift economic sanctions over the Ukraine crisis soon.
In a televised call-in with the nation, Putin acknowledged that there were difficulties for Russia's economy, which has been hit by a fall in global oil prices as well as the sanctions.
But, asked about a prediction he made earlier that the economy could return to growth in two years, he said: "With what we are seeing now, the strengthening of the rouble and the growth in the markets ... I think that it may happen faster ... but somewhere in the region of two years."
Putin has made clear that he largely blames the West for Russia's economic problems, including the weak rouble, higher inflation and falling revenues.
The central bank expects the economy to contract by 3.5 to 4 percent this year and by 1 to 1.6 percent in 2016.
Sitting at a desk in a television studio in front of rows of telephone operators taking calls from viewers, Putin said the sanctions were politically motivated by Western powers which he accused of wanting to "contain" Russia.
"I think they do not relate directly to events in Ukraine," he said, adding the sanctions had remained in place even though Russia believed Kiev was to blame for the failure to implement a ceasefire deal fully in east Ukraine.
He said he had recently discussed the sanctions with business leaders.
"I told them we can hardly expect sanctions to be lifted now because they are purely political," he said.
Putin's ratings in Russia have soared since the country annexed the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine just over a year ago but relations with the West are at their lowest point since the Cold War ended nearly a quarter of a century ago.
Western leaders say they have overwhelming evidence that Moscow has provided pro-Russian separatists fighting Ukrainian government forces in east Ukraine with soldiers and weapons. Russia denies this and says the West was behind the overthrow of a Moscow-backed Ukrainian president in February 2014.
Putin, 62, has held a call-in almost every year since he was first elected president in 2000, answering questions on issues ranging from local housing problems to regional and international conflicts.
They have often been marathon performances, the longest lasting 4 hours 47 minutes in 2013, and been used by Putin to show he is in command and ready to address the people's problems, large or small.