Moscow: Russians are ready to ride out the current economic crisis, even by eating less food, and to stand by President Vladimir Putin`s side regardless, the deputy prime minister said Friday.
Speaking at the Davos Economic Forum, Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said Western sanctions have united Russians around their leader, which will make it easier to push through painful reforms.
"We will withstand all hardships in this country, eat less food, use less electricity... but if we feel that someone outside wants to change our leader against our will... we will be more united than ever."
The West simply "does not understand the Russian mentality", Shuvalov said, denying that the crisis and sanctions would destabilise Putin`s grip on political life or sway his position on Ukraine.
"If a Russian feels external pressure, he will never give his leader up," said Shuvalov, who is believed to be one of the richest men in the Russian government.
Shuvalov`s remarks on austerity went viral, with some in the opposition posting photographs of luxury mansions that he allegedly owns on Twitter.
"After the Ukraine crisis and sanctions... consolidation came" and Russians united around Putin rather than against him, he added.
The current crisis "seems softer than in 2009, but that is a perceived softness," Shuvalov said, referring to Russia`s last recession. "In reality we are already in a situation when we are entering a crisis that is longer and more complicated."
This year will essentially be a "hard landing" for the economy and people will have to learn to accept a "new reality," he said.
The government will be able to introduce crisis measures since "consolidation and tough interior and exterior conditions are a good launching pad" for reforms, he said.
Putin enjoyed unprecedented support last year after the annexation of Ukraine`s Crimean peninsula and his popularity has barely ebbed even as the economy has begun to suffer and the ruble has rapidly lost value.
Levada polling centre last month said Putin still enjoys an 85 percent approval rating. In a poll conducted last week, 55 percent said they would like Putin to stay on as president after the 2018 elections.