MOSCOW - With recession looming, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that the West has had his nation in the crosshairs for "centuries" and outlined measures in response aimed at bolstering Russia's self-sufficiency.
In an annual state-of-the-nation address, a fiery Putin blasted the West and "speculators" who he said were waging an economic war against Russia. He also made no concessions to Western sanctions, saying instead that they were a spur to bring offshore money home and to invest in Russian industry.
And he gave no indication he would back down from Russian policy toward Ukraine, where a raging conflict has claimed more than 4,300 lives. Hours later, Secretary of State John Kerry blamed Russia for bringing on sanctions for its "own actions" in Ukraine.
Putin outlined the conflict between Russia and the West in terms of civilization, giving little indication that relations would improve any time soon. He said that Russia's March annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, which kicked off the worst stretch of relations between the West and Russia since the Cold War, was a "historic event" that would not be reversed.
Crimea "is of huge civilizational importance to Russia, just like the Temple Mount is to Judaism," Putin said, asserting that foundational events in Russian history took place on the Black Sea peninsula.
But he left the door open to Russian economic cooperation with the West, saying that "Russia will be open to the world," even if it makes moves to improve its own self-sufficiency.
Russia's economy is expected to go into a recession next year, the result of plummeting oil prices and tough Western sanctions that have crimped investments. The ruble has fallen significantly in recent weeks, losing more than a third of its value against the dollar since July. In midday trading after Putin's speech, it was down about 1 percent.
In an effort to boost the economy, Putin said that he would freeze taxes on businesses and reduce government inspections of small and midsize enterprises that are found to be compliant with Russian regulations. He vowed to cut down on corruption and offered a full, no-questions-asked amnesty for Russians bringing back money from abroad.