He pledged to respect the result of Sunday’s Ukrainian election but spoke very dismissively of what he called a “coup d’etat” against his ally, former President Viktor Yanokovych. He also maintained that Russia wanted to continue negotiations with the West over Ukraine, but was turned down.
‘Give us our money back’
Russia will do business with Ukraine “if they give us our money back,” Putin said to laughter from the audience. He was referring to the $3 billion loaned to Ukraine by Russia before Yanokovych was ousted. Since then, Western powers in the form of the International Monetary Fund have come up with an alternative $17 billion rescue package for Ukraine’s ailing economy.
“We have gathered here for economic discussions, but we cannot erase political discussions,” Putin said, slamming the use of sanctions against Russian businesses and individuals and warned that they might have a boomerang effect.
“Economic sanctions as a tool of political pressure are eventually going to attack the economy of the countries who have initiated the sanctions,” he said.
He also argued that Russia had only intervened to save lives in Ukraine.
Those who have been hit by sanctions include some of Putin’s closest allies. He argued that they are “experienced entrepreneurs” who will recover from “illegal” sanctions.
‘Human rights fighter’ Snowden
Asked about Russia’s sheltering of U.S. fugitive Edward Snowden, who is living in Moscow after leaking information from the National Security Agency, Putin called him a “human rights fighter” and said he could stay in the country.
The episode was one of several marking a turn away from West to East by Russia in the past few years, as Putin has gained the upper hand over more liberal forces in the Russian government.
The Eurasian Economic Union could cement this trend. It would consist of former Soviet states Belarus and Kazakhstan as well as Russia, and possibly also Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
The union would have closer ties between Russia and China at its heart, according to Putin.
Read More Ukraine, Russia ‘doomed to be together’: Fin Min
Putin’s remarks come at a time of uncertainty for the Russian economy. Investor nervousness about the consequences of Russian actions in Ukraine, combined with sanctions against a number of businesses and wealthy individuals, have contributed toward a likely recession in the first half of the year.
Inflation has soared to 7.3 percent in April, and the central bank has had to intervene to halt the slide of the ruble against the U.S. dollar.
Putin’s strong stance over Ukraine, parts of which have a substantial Russian ethnic minority, seems to have been met with popular approval at home. It has been less positive for foreign and domestic investment in Russia, with investors changing their rubles for dollars and companies putting off investments in the country until the future looks more certain.
Don’t believe Putin or invest on his words: Browder
Written by CNBC’s Catherine Boyle, with contributions from Geoff Cutmore.