Vladimir Putin's long-time ally has suggested the Russian president could order an early vote to win a mandate for much-needed economic reforms.

Russia's economy, hit by Western sanctions and its own dependence on oil prices, has entered a recession, dropping 2.2 percent in the first quarter of year.

Alexei Kudrin, Russia's finance minister from 2000-11 and the man who invited Putin in for a job in the presidential administration in the late 1990s, suggested Thursday that Putin hold an early election in order to "win the mandate" for economic reforms.

Speaking to The Associated Press, Kudrin said he had not discussed the idea with Putin. Still he insisted the move is necessary, because of a "dire need of serious measures to restore the economy."