Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed Thursday to fix Russia's economic woes within two years, but offered no specific remedy for a deepening financial crisis during his annual news conference in Moscow on Thursday.
The economy is heading into recession in what one minister called a "perfect storm" of low oil prices, Western sanctions in the Ukraine crisis and global economic problems. The ruble has fallen about 45 percent against the dollar this year.
Putin acknowledged that Western economic sanctions over Russia's actions in Ukraine made up just one factor behind Russia's economic crisis, accounting for roughly 25 to 30 percent of the ruble's troubles. He said a key reason for the currency's recent fall was the nation's failure to ease its overwhelming dependence on oil and gas exports.
Despite Russia's economic woes, Putin still has an approval rating of about 80 percent, according to AP-NORC poll results released Thursday.
The Russian leader struck a defiant note against the United States and the European Union, saying that sanctions imposed on Russia after it seized the Black Sea region of Crimea in March were part of a historical campaign to weaken the nation. He accused the West of trying to infringe on Russia's sovereignty, adding that the Ukrainian crisis was just a pretext for Western action.
"Sometimes I think, maybe they'll let the bear eat berries and honey in the forest, maybe they will leave it in peace," said Putin, referring to Russia's famed symbol. "They will not. Because they will always try to put him on a chain, and as soon as they succeed in doing so they tear out his fangs and his claws."
He said by fangs and claws he meant Russia's nuclear weapons, adding that the West wants to weaken Russia to win control over its rich natural resources.
"Once they've taken out his claws and his fangs, then the bear is no longer necessary. He'll become a stuffed animal," he said. "The issue is not Crimea, the issue is that we are protecting our sovereignty and our right to exist."
Not long after Putin's speech, the Council of the European Union announced further economic sanctions against Crimea and Sevastopol.
Putin defended Russia's increased military activities, including Baltic flights that NATO said put civilian flights at risk, as a necessary response to what he described as aggressive Western action.
Despite his anti-Western rhetoric, Putin urged a political solution for the crisis in Ukraine, where pro-Russian insurgents have been battling Ukrainian government troops since April, leaving 4,700 people dead.
He said Ukraine must remain one political entity, meaning that its pro-Russian, rebellious eastern regions should not break away. He also suggested that the Ukrainian government and rebels in eastern Ukraine should conduct a quick "all for all" prisoner swap before Christmas.
Putin also held out hope for normalizing ties with the West, saying that Russia still hopes to expand its gas supplies to southern Europe using a prospective gas hub on Turkey's border with Greece.
Al Jazeera and wire services