In a speech ranging from the economy to school tests, Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday evoked religious imagery and defended the Kremlin's aggressive foreign policy as necessary for his country's survival. Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula in March after the ousting of pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych and was accused of sending ammunition and manpower to pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Putin in his annual state-of-the-nation address at the Grand Kremlin Palace defended the annexation of Crimea, describing it as Russia's spiritual ground, "our Temple Mount", and said that national pride and sovereignty were "a necessary condition for survival" of Russia. "If for many European countries, sovereignty and national pride are forgotten concepts and a luxury, then for the Russian Federation a true sovereignty is an absolutely necessary condition of its existence," he told a full room of Cabinet ministers, lawmakers and community leaders. "I want to stress: either we will be sovereign, or we will dissolve in the world." More than 4,300 people have been killed in eastern Ukraine in what the West and the Ukrainian government says is a conflict fuelled by Russian money. Putin once again expressed his displeasure over the toppling of Yanukovych but offered no insight into what Russia's next actions in eastern Ukraine could be. Although Russia is boosting its national defence budget, Putin said it was not going to get involved in an expensive arms race. "No one will succeed in defeating Russia militarily," he said. "They would have been delighted to let us go the way of Yugoslavia and the dismemberment of the Russian peoples, with all the tragic consequences. But it did not happen. We did not allow it to happen." Moscow-based analyst Maria Lipman said that despite bellicose statements towards the West at the beginning of his speech, Putin "also spoke about how we are by no means going to isolate ourselves, we are interested in constructive work even with Europeans and Americans". Striking a decidedly liberal note, the Russian president also announced measures to spur the flagging economy, saying Russia's resurgent "geopolitical role" should be matched by a thriving economy. Russia is expected to enter recession next year, for the first time in six years.