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Vladimir Putin has scoffed at the British public being offered turnips to eat during food shortages, while claiming Russia’s economy is holding firm despite Western sanctions over the war in Ukraine.
In a speech to business leaders, Mr Putin said Western analysts had prophesised that Russia’s store shelves would empty and services collapse as a result of the sanctions.
“Life had other ideas,” he said. “The Western countries themselves ran into all the same problems. It’s got to the point where their leaders suggest that citizens switch to turnips instead of lettuce or tomatoes.”
The Russian president appeared to be referring to remarks by farming minister Therese Coffey, who said last month that Britons struggling to get hold of imported tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers in supermarkets could consider more seasonal, home-grown turnips – a vegetable that has suffered image troubles in recent decades due to its association with less prosperous times.
Consumers in most other parts of Western Europe did not suffer the same shortages, which were caused by abnormally cold weather disrupting harvests in southern Europe and north Africa.
While Russia’s 2 per cent economic contraction last year defied most early forecasts, analysts say it will be years before it regains its 2021 size, and longer until it returns to its previous growth path.
The International Monetary Fund forecasts the Russian economy to grow 0.3 per cent this year; far lower than the 3.75 per cent that was forecast for 2022 before the invasion.
While praising Russia’s resilience, Mr Putin also acknowledged risks to the economy and told business leaders to put patriotism before profit.
One big reason for Russia’s resilience: record fossil fuel earnings of $325bn (£270bn) last year as prices spiked. The surging costs stemmed from fears that the war would mean a severe loss of energy from the world’s third-largest oil producer.
That revenue, coupled with a collapse in what Russia could import because of sanctions, pushed the country into a record trade surplus – meaning what Russia earned from sales to other countries far outweighed its purchases abroad.
Mr Putin was speaking as a further damning indictment of his forces’ behaviour during the yearlong war came to light when the UN-mandated investigative body said Russia has committed wide-ranging war crimes in Ukraine such as wilful killings and torture.
The alleged crimes, including the deportation of children, were detailed in a report by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, which said some acts may amount to crimes against humanity.
Elsewhere, at least one person was killed and two were injured in a blast and fire at a building belonging to Russia’s FSB security service in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, according to officials quoted by Russian news agencies.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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