Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that the country’s economy remains strong despite various sanctions imposed on Russia by Western nations over its alleged role in conflict in eastern Ukraine. Putin hailed Russia’s economic performance while insisting that there were no Russian troops in Ukraine, and called on the latter to respect ceasefire agreements.

Putin, speaking on a live call-in show on television, predicted that Russia’s economy would see a negative growth of 3 to 5 percent in 2015 -- representing the sharpest decline since he became president 15 years ago -- but added that his country would use Western sanctions as an excuse to become more self-reliant. The Russian leader also claimed that the fall would be less significant going forward, and pointed to the ruble’s recent recovery as an indication of Russia’s robust economy, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

“We must use the current situation to reach new levels of development,” Putin said, adding that sanctions helped Russia reduce its dependence on oil and imports, and encouraged it to focus more on domestic high-tech industries and agricultural production.

Putin, who acknowledged that an 11.4 percent annual inflation rate had hit consumers' budgets, said that the country can face many challenges if it remains united. He also claimed that the Russian economy would take about two years to recover from the current turmoil, BBC reported.

“If we preserve a stable situation in domestic politics, preserve the current consolidation of society, we shouldn't fear any threats,” AP quoted Putin as saying.

The Russian leader also talked about the United States’ debt situation, which, according to him, is worrisome not only for the country, but for the entire global economy as well.

“The state debt of the United States is already greater than the country’s GDP,” Sputnik quoted Putin as saying. “This is a very worrying thing, this is a warning signal not only for the [United] States, but for the entire economy. We don’t know yet how the situation will develop.”

Replying to questions on Russia’s relations with Ukraine, Putin said that Moscow seeks to restore its ties with the Ukrainian government, and urged Ukraine to honor peace agreements that have been put in place to tackle the ongoing conflict between Kiev and pro-Moscow separatists in the east.

“Of course, we are not going to interfere,” Putin said. “It is not our business to imposing a certain way to behave, but we have the right to express our opinion and, moreover, we have the right to insist on the implementation of the Minsk agreements.”