DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) — Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, on Friday warned the West against trying to topple President Vladimir Putin and said that Russians are ready to sacrifice their wealth in Putin's support.
Russia has for the past year been sliding into recession amid a slump in its energy export prices as well as Western sanctions against Moscow's role in the conflict in Ukraine that has claimed more than 5,000 lives. Questions have been raised in Russia and abroad whether the price that ordinary Russians are having to pay for the annexation of Crimea is too high.
Shuvalov, who is believed to be one of the richest men in the government, said that what he considers the West's attempts to oust Putin will only unite the nation further.
"When a Russian feels any foreign pressure, he will never give up his leader," Shuvalov said. "Never. We will survive any hardship in the country — eat less food, use less electricity."
Shuvalov's comments triggered pithy remarks on Russia social media including an opposition activist who posted photos of Shuvalov's Moscow, London and Austria homes to illustrate where the deputy prime minister would experience the hardships he described.
At the same panel in Davos, Putin's long-time ally and former finance minister Alexei Kudrin said that Putin clearly thinks that Russia's foreign policy interests at this point are worth the price the nation pays in higher inflation and the collapse of the Russian ruble.
Shuvalov, who worked with Kudrin until he resigned from the government in 2011, defended Russia's foreign policy but warned that Russia is "going into a longer crisis" compared with 2008, when it was battered for about two years by the global crisis.
Shuvalov said Russia should focus on cushioning the economic fall through reforms and supporting the financial system. "It is going to get worse and the anti-crisis plan should be aimed at adapting to the hard landing," he said.
Russia's foreign currency reserves shrank by 2 percent last week alone to $379 billion as the Central Bank sold foreign currency in a bid to prop up the ruble.
Vasilyeva contributed to this report from Moscow.