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Russian President Putin optimistic of future during television interview

By Andrew V. Pestano

MOSCOW, April 16 (UPI) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin answered questions from constituents on Wednesday in his annual televised Q&A; addressing the economy in the nearly 4-hour long live broadcast.

Putin was asked 74 questions in the Direct Line with Vladimir Putin broadcast. The annexation of Crimea was brought into the discussion early and the economic impact Russia has suffered due to imposed sanctions.

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"We have come across certain external limitations, which in one way or another have had an impact on our growth rates, on our development, though on the whole we can now see that the ruble is gaining strength and the stock markets are on the rise. We have managed to avoid spiraling inflation," Putin said.

Putin stated that Russia's gross domestic product grew by 0.6 percent, a "small growth, but it is growth nevertheless." He said industrial production increased by 1.7 percent, the processing industry by 2.1 percent and that Russia set a new record in oil production -- 525 million tons.

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Russia's agriculture also grew by 3.7 percent, according to Putin.

The Russian economy expanded 0.4 percent in 2014's fourth quarter, a surprise increase before the country's currency crisis took hold.

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Economic sanctions, applied by Western countries in retaliation to Russian involvement in Ukraine, have led to loss of markets and outflows of capital. The Russian government responded with a reduction in spending and an emergency increase in its interest rates. Putin does not expect the sanctions to be removed soon.

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"The overall assets of Russian banks have grown to reach 77 trillion rubles and for the first time they exceed the nation's GDP," Putin said. "This is a very good index, demonstrating the stability and reliability of the Russian banking system."

Russia is expecting a deficit of 3.7 percent in 2015, higher than last year's 0.5 percent.

"One of the positive outcomes of 2014 was undoubtedly the positive demographics. The birth rate has gone up against a drop in the death rate., Putin said. "The average life span continues growing and this speaks of an overall positive tendency and public sentiment in general."

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Ed Adamczyk contributed to this report.

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