Putin warns foreign rivals against 'crossing red line' with Russia

Wednesday April 21 2021
world13pix

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual state of the nation address at The Federal Assembly at The Manezh Exhibition Hall in Moscow on April 21, 2021. Russian President Vladimir Putin has kicked off his annual state of the nation address which sets the political agenda for the year, as supporters of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny prepared for mass protests.

By AFP

President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday warned Russia's foreign rivals against "crossing the red line" with Moscow, as he gave a state of the nation speech amid deep tensions with the West.

Russia's ties with the West have deteriorated to near Cold War lows, with Moscow and Western capitals at loggerheads over jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, a Russian troop build-up on Ukraine's borders and a series of espionage scandals. 

"In some countries, they have started an obscene custom of blaming Russia for anything," Putin told gathered lawmakers and regional governors in a speech broadcast on national television.

"It's some kind of sport -- a new kind of sport."

The Russian president added that Moscow wants "good relations" with all members of the international community -- even with those that it does not see eye to eye.

"But if someone perceives our good intentions as weakness... let them know that Russia's response will be asymmetric and harsh," he said.

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"I hope that no one will think of crossing the red line in relation to Russia. And where it will be -- we will determine that ourselves," he added.

Moscow has seen its diplomats in recent months expelled from a host of Western countries, which have imposed sanctions on Russia over allegations of cyber attacks, hacking and the poisoning of Navalny.

The Kremlin last week said it was "good" that US President Joe Biden was seeking dialogue with Putin by offering a summit between the two leaders, even as Washington slapped Moscow with new sanctions. 

It has said, however, it is still considering the offer.

#Five key points from Putin's state of the nation speech

President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday delivered his annual state of the nation address as Russia faces a crisis in ties with the West and protests in support of his imprisoned critic Alexei Navalny.

Here are the five key points of Putin's address:

'Red line' warning to West

"I hope that no one will think of crossing the red line in relation to Russia. And where it will be -- we will determine that ourselves."

Tensions between Moscow and the West have soared in recent weeks over jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, a Russian troop build-up on Ukraine's borders and a series of spy scandals.

But US President Joe Biden has extended Putin an olive branch by offering to hold a summit between the two leaders in a neutral country. The Kremlin has said it is "good" Biden is seeking dialogue, but is still considering the offer.

Ending the pandemic 

"Vaccination is now of paramount importance... to allow herd immunity to develop in the fall... Our scientists have made a real breakthrough. Now Russia has three reliable vaccines against the coronavirus."

Russia was the first country to register a coronavirus vaccine, which it dubbed Sputnik V after the world's first artificial satellite, developed by the Soviet Union. It has since developed two more vaccines: EpiVacCorona and CoviVac.

But the country has been among the hardest hit by Covid-19, with its Rosstat statistics agency recording more than 224,000 virus-related deaths -- significantly higher than the some 106,000 health officials had reported as of Wednesday.

Money talks ahead of polls

"The main thing is to ensure the growth of citizens' real incomes."

Putin in his speech promised a litany of measures to fill Russians' purses, setting as the government's priority this year improved incomes and greater support for families. 

Economic improvements will be key for Putin going into parliamentary polls in September. While the president remains widely popular, his United Russia party is seen as corrupt, with an independent pollster recently predicting it will win only 21 percent of the vote. 

 Belarus integration?

"Everyone pretends that nothing is happening at all. What would have happened if the coup d'etat attempt had been actually undertaken? How many people would have suffered?"

Putin was complaining of Western silence in response to a claim by Belarusian strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko that his security services had thwarted an alleged US plot to assassinate him.

Both leaders of the "union states" are facing down protests against their rule, and both have long accused the West of working to destabilise their countries. The two will meet in Moscow on Thursday, with some analysts predicting they may announce further integration measures. 

Fighting climate change 

"We must respond to the challenges of climate change."

Putin has long said that climate change can be positive for Russia, one of the world's major producers of oil and gas.

With global warming melting ice cover in the Arctic, Moscow has made the region a strategic priority and is planning to use the Northern Sea Route for exporting hydrocarbons to Asia. 

But climate change is also threatening massive financial costs to Russia, which has seen devastating forest fires rip across Siberia with increasing regularity and the permafrost that covers two-thirds of the vast country melt as an increasingly faster rate. 

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