Russian President Vladimir Putin's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and other disruptive moves there are aimed at reviving his popularity at home and keeping his grip on power in Moscow, said American-born hedge fund boss and human rights activist William Browder—in reaction to a wide-ranging CNBC-led Q&A with Putin on Friday.
"In terms of the Russian population, the support is real. He's stirred up a nationalist frenzy by taking Crimea and ... by going into Ukraine. He's done it on purpose," Browder said in a "Squawk Box" interview. "He did it by creating a foreign enemy, which is the West."
On stage at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Putin told CNBC that sanctions imposed by the U.S. and Europe are "illegal." He also said he'd respect the outcome of this weekend's Ukrainian elections.