Moscow - The Russian economy is nearing recession, officials said Tuesday, with punishing Western sanctions over the Ukraine conflict set to keep growth at ultra-low levels and drive up inflation.

“The economy is close to recession,” said Oleg Zasov, the head of forecasting at the economy ministry, according to Russian news agencies.

The ministry held its forecast at growth of just 0.5 percent this year, compared with 1.3 percent in 2013.

A month ago, it had defiantly predicted growth of 1.0 percent when the West imposed its first sectoral sanctions over Moscow's support for pro-Russian rebels fighting in eastern Ukraine.

But it has now slashed its forecast for 2015 in half, also to 1.0 percent. - Sapa-AFP