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Sanctions show West is fearful, Putin says

Ukraine just an excuse, president says in his State of the Union address.

By Daniel J. Graeber
Sanctions show West is fearful, Putin says
Sanctions targeting Russia's energy sector an attempt by the West to keep Russia weak, said President Putin, pictured here in 2008. File Photo Anatoli Zhdanov | License Photo

MOSCOW, Dec. 4 (UPI) -- Sanctions targeting the energy sector are a response from a Western power base wary of the rise of post-Soviet Russia, President Vladimir Putin said Thursday.

Putin delivered his annual State of the Union address at a time when the Russian economy is on the verge of a recession brought on by a bear market for crude oil and sanctions imposed on the country's energy sector.

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Sanctions targeting Russian oil company Rosneft and others were enacted in response to Russian military action in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian rebels rose up following a decision by the government in Kiev to move closer to the European Union.

Putin said crises in Ukraine were used as an excuse by the United States and its allies to contain a Russia re-asserting its power following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s.

"The policy of containment was not invented yesterday. It has been carried out against our country for many years, always, for decades, if not centuries," he said.

"In short, whenever someone thinks that Russia has become too strong or independent, these tools are quickly put into use."

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Russia and the United States have been at odds over the balance of power in Eastern Europe since before political upheaval in Ukraine in November 2013, most notably over missile defense systems in the region.

What Ukraine needs, the president says, is economic assistance, not "pompous empty promises." Russian energy company Gazprom, he said, has already provided relief to a weak Ukrainian economy in the way of a discount on natural gas.

On the economy, and with a Russian ruble trading at new lows against the U.S. dollar, Putin warned against "profiteers" taking advantage of the currency inflation.

"The authorities know who the profiteers are and they have the leverage to influence them," he warned. "Time is ripe for putting this leverage to use."

The Russian economy relies on oil and gas for more than half of its revenues. Russian Deputy Economy Minister Alexei Vedev said this week economic growth is expected to fall below 1 percent in part because of investment uncertainty and sanctions pressure.

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