Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian president Vladimir Putin spoke of the importance of love in a speech to Russian geographers. Getty

Russian President Vladimir Putin, better known for his barbed criticisms of the West and his uncompromising defence of Russian interests, has revealed he believes love is the meaning of life.

Addressing the 15th Congress of the Russian Geographical Society on Friday, Putin ventured on an unexpected philosophical digression.

"The meaning of our whole life and existence is love," Putin said.

"It is love for the family, for the children, for the Motherland. This is a multifaceted phenomenon; it lies at heart of any of our behaviours."

Putin has previously spoken of the central importance of building a sense of Russian national identity. In his speech he indicated that love of country held particular importance, expressing his belief that "joint work" would strengthen love for the Motherland.

"It is exactly the top priority which all of us should go after, and I am absolutely sure that we will succeed," he added.

Putin, who chairs the board of trustees of the Geographical Society also spoke of the necessity of attracting more schoolchildren to the subject.

The former KGB man projects a strongman image domestically, with much-lampooned photoshoots seeing him posing topless hunting in the Siberian wilderness, piloting a helicopter, and firing an assault rifle.

Putin, who was named the most powerful man in the world by Forbes magazine this week for the second year running, has previously struck combative notes when addressing Russian historians at a meeting in Moscow.

In the speech, he defended the Soviet Union's non-aggression pact with Hitler during the Second World War, and accused the UK and its allies of appeasement in acquiescing to Germany's annexation of Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland.

"The Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact with Germany. They say: that's so bad. What's bad if Soviet Union didn't want to go to war?" he said.

"Knowing that the war was inevitable and expecting that it would happen, the Soviet Union absolutely needed time to modernize its army. Every month mattered. The number of 'Katyusha' multiple rocket launchers or T-34 tanks in the Soviet Army was measured in units, while it needed thousands of them," he added.