Putin tells business elite: Don't beg for Western money, invest in Russia

FILE PHOTO: Russia's President Putin takes part in an event marking Gazprom's 30th anniversary, via video link outside Moscow

MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin took a swipe at Russia's business elite on Tuesday, urging those "begging" for money in the West to invest at home instead and telling them that ordinary Russians had no sympathy for their lost yachts and palaces.

"Trying to run around with your hand outstretched, grovelling, begging for money, is pointless," Putin said in a televised address to Russia's political, military and business elite.

"Launch new projects, make money, invest in Russia," he said. "This is how you will multiply your capital and earn people's recognition and gratitude for generations to come."

Russian oligarchs and business people have fallen under the scope of sweeping Western sanctions in response to Moscow sending tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine almost one year ago, with property and yachts among the assets frozen or seized.

"Recent events have convincingly shown that the image of the West as a safe haven, a refuge for capital, is a phantom, a fake," Putin said.

No ordinary citizens felt sympathy for those who lost money in foreign banks or were forced to give up their yachts and palaces abroad, Putin said, remembering Russia's 1990s privatisation drive that saw state businesses sold for next to nothing and the "ostentatious luxury of the so-called new elites".

Putin welcomed what he said was a long-overdue structural transformation of the Russian economy as a result of the conflict in Ukraine and said it was dangerous for Russian firms to be dependent on the West.

Russia's federal statistics service Rosstat on Tuesday estimated the country's 2022 GDP fall at 2.1%, while the central bank put it at 2.5%. Either way, those estimates are a far cry from Moscow's early fears of a double-digit drop as Western sanctions hit.

Putin extolled Russia's limited economic contraction last year as evidence of the country's resilience. He said it was reacting quickly to challenges and putting the economy in a position to "unlock Russia's enormous potential".

The focus on domestic investment was an inward shift, but Russia is also eyeing up new markets. Putin described the Asia-Pacific region as one of the new, promising global markets.

China's top diplomat was due to arrive in Moscow on Tuesday. Beijing and Moscow struck a "no limits" partnership last year.

(Reporting by Reuters; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)