Russian President Vladimir Putin has attempted to assuage fears of economic collapse and promised rapid recovery as he faced hundreds of journalists amid the worst financial crisis of his rule.

Speaking at his annual press conference on Thursday, the Russian leader said that the economic downturn will last two years at the most and promised to support the poorest segment of the population.

"Under the most unfavourable world conditions, such a situation can last two years," Putin said days after the Russian rouble fell to record lows, following a 60-percent dive in value since the beginning of the year.


INSIDE STORY: Russia's economic crisis


He added that efforts by the central bank and government have been "absolutely reasonable and in the right direction" though they could have come quicker.

Russian authorities have made a record hike of the key interest rate in the country and spent billions to stabilise the rouble.

"It goes without saying that a way out of this situation is inevitable," he said, promising to "focus attention on helping people who need it most".

The Russian president had remained silent earlier this week on the issue of the rouble's crash, which took it to historic lows of 80 to the dollar and 100 to the euro, leading Russians to rush to exchange their savings and make a run on stores to dump the devaluing national currency ahead of expected price hikes.

The rouble rallied in early trading on Thursday ahead of the news conference.

The central bank earlier this week spent $2bn on supporting the currency and the finance ministry promised to spend up to $7bn more.

Additional sanctions

Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev told Vedomosti, a Russian daily newspaper, in an interview published on Thursday that Russia's economy was going through a "crisis" and conceded that there was no coherent plan on how to tackle it if oil prices do not rebound.

The marathon press conference, held in a trade centre in central Moscow, saw Putin face hundreds of journalists from all over Russia.

Putin admitted that Western sanctions over Moscow's involvement in the conflict in Ukraine - where 4,700 people have died so far in fighting between Kiev's forces and pro-Moscow separatists - contributed "25-30 percent" to the current economic situation.

But the Russian leader made clear that his position on Ukraine has not changed, branding Kiev's military campaign against Russian-backed rebels in the east a "punitive operation".

He said the West is targeting Moscow not because of the annexation of Crimea and support for the rebels, but because of its "wish to survive as a nation, as a civilisation, as a state". Putin's ratings so far remain sky-high for months after the controversial annexation.

On Thursday, the EU imposed additional sanctions on Crimea.

Source: Agencies