In an annual state of the nation address, the 61-year-old Russian president said his country did not aspire to be “some kind of superpower”.
“We do not infringe on anyone’s interests, we do not force our patronage on anyone, or try to teach anyone how to live,” he said.
His comments amounted to an oblique rebuttal to the growing international movement against Russia’s restrictive laws on homosexuality. Support for a boycott of Russia in the run up to the Sochi Winter Olympic Games has widened with celebrities announcing they will not perform in Russia. Others including Joachim Gauck, the German president, have declined invitations for the event. Mr Putin defended his government’s increasingly conservative values and decried the “review of norms of morality” in the West and elsewhere.
“This destruction of traditional values from above not only entails negative consequences for society, but is also inherently anti-democratic because it is based on an abstract notion and runs counter to the will of the majority of people,” Mr Putin said, adding there could be no benefit for society for treating “good and evil” equally.
In his 70-minute televised speech from an ornate Kremlin hall, Mr Putin said traditional family values where a bulwark against “so-called tolerance – genderless and infertile.”
Critics of the speech were quick to point that post-Soviet Russia has seen a deep and damaging decline in its birth rates to among the lowest of any developed nation.
While the speech did not contain a widely-trailed push to eliminate local mayors, one of the few power centres outside the Kremlin’s control, Mr Putin did appear to signal a push against oligarchs dominance of the economy.
The Russian leader attacked the prevalence of offshore companies in the economy, claiming the use of such vehicles was hampering growth.
“The main reasons for a slowdown in economic growth are internal, not external,” he said. “We must establish more stability and a good investment climate.”
Half of the $50 billion (£30 billion) that Russian companies invest abroad every year is sent to offshore jurisdictions, which Putin described as the “transfer of capitals that should be working in Russia.”
“You want to have offshores? Fine. You want to have benefits, support and to make profit by operating in Russia? Then do register in the Russian jurisdiction.”
However his wake-up call on the economy was criticised by Alexei Kudrin, a former close associate and Russia’s finance minister until 2011. The much-respected technocrat said the government was incapable of meaningful reforms.
“It’s a shame that so little has been done,” Mr Kudrin said after the speech. “The president’s proposals for reactivating the economy are a tactical response to the problem. We need a strategic plan to get out of stagnation.”
The Russian leader has had notable foreign policy success in 2013, forging a deal on Syria’s chemical weapons with the US and helping force Iran to the nuclear negotiating table. But internally the impression has grown that his regime is increasingly fragile.
Stefan Meister, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said Mr Putin had lost room for political maneourve as he entered his presidential third term since 2000. “He has isolated himself from the proactive part of society and the elite,” he said. “He has surrounded himself with hardliners from the security service who promote Russia’s “modernisation” through the country’s military-industrial complex.”
Mr Putin also revived the Kremlin’s warnings again American plans for anti-missile shields and the dangers of reducing to nothing the post-Cold War strategic balance. “Nobody should have any illusion about the possibility of gaining military superiority over Russia,” he said. “We will never allow this to happen. Russia will respond to all these challenges, political and military.”