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Putin tells Russians to look inward

MOSCOW — In his first major speech since returning to the presidency, Vladimir Putin called on Russians Wednesday ‘‘not to lose ourselves as a nation,’’ urging them to look for guidance in Russia’s historic and traditional values — and not in Western political models — as it charts its post-Soviet development.

Putin also sent tough messages to officials in his government, warning that the prosecutor’s office had been empowered to seize illegally acquired assets. He recommended barring officials and other political figures from holding stocks and bank accounts outside Russia and said the government would begin to closely scrutinize officials’ foreign real estate holdings.

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“How can we trust an official who speaks loudly about the good of Russia, but tries to bring his funds, his money, overseas?’’ Putin said.

When the officials in his audience began to clap, he gave a little smile.

‘‘Don’t hurry to applaud,’’ he said. ‘‘You may not all like this.’’

Vladimir Burmatov, a pro-Putin activist, remarked on Twitter that ‘‘a portion of the audience just had a small heart attack.’’

Putin’s speech was closely watched for signs of the trajectory the president has chosen for Russia.

He took office in May amid protests by young city dwellers, and authorities have since hemmed in dissent with harsh new laws while encouraging the rise of conservative and religious rhetoric.

In recent weeks, several corruption cases have been opened against high-ranking officials, accompanied by television exposes featuring their wealth. Those steps have failed to turn around the gradual decline in Putin’s approval ratings, although the protest movement has waned as well.

Putin said Wednesday that ‘‘many moral compasses have been lost’’ since the Soviet Union collapsed, and that Russia’s citizens had become hardened to corruption and offensive behavior.

‘‘This often takes disgusting, aggressive, and provocative forms’’ that threaten Russia’s security, he said. ‘‘It pains me to say this, but I feel obliged to say this: Today Russian society clearly lacks spiritual ties: mercy, sympathy, mutual compassion, support, and assistance.’’

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