Vladimir Putin Vows That Russian Bear Won't Become 'Stuffed Animal' – NBCNews.com

President Vladimir Putin launched a defiant and patriotic defense of Russia’s relations with the West Thursday as he faced the public in his annual live televised news conference.

He said 25 percent of Russia’s economic crisis — including its faltering currency — was caused by sanctions imposed following the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region.

Putin said Russia was unfairly criticized for looking after its own interests, and compared his country to the United States. “To chop Texas from Mexico is fair, but when we make decision about our territories it is unfair,” he said. “Do they want our bear to become a stuffed animal?”

In a defense of Russia’s defiance of NATO and the West, said: “Maybe our bear should sit quietly, not chasing any piglets around, but just eating honey and berries. Maybe they should just leave him alone? They will not. They are trying to put it on a chain. And as soon as they do it they will tear his teeth and claws out.”

The president also insisted Russia’s economy and the ruble would quickly recover from the current crisis. In opening remarks, he acknowledged that the ruble could slide further because of falling oil prices and warned that spending cuts might be necessary — but said the economy would return to growth in two years.

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He also addressed criticism of Russia’s central bank, saying measures to tackle the slowdown could have been taken quicker, but insisted it was working to fight inflation.

More than 1,000 journalists were accredited to attend the marathon question-and-answer session. Many waved bright banners or toy animals in the hope of being chosen to ask a question.

Putin is enjoying historically high poll ratings. Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll released Thursday found that about 80 percent of Russians still support him — an increase compared to 2012.

Earlier, a tycoon under house arrest since September was reportedly released just hours before the news conference. Vladimir Yevtushenkov’s release was reported by Interfax news agency citing his lawyer, Vladimir Kozin. The last-minute release echoes a similar move last year, when Putin announced after his annual press conference that another tycoon, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, would be set free.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

First published December 18 2014, 12:42 AM

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