In annual address, Putin warns Russia’s foes will be sorry


PTI, Apr 21, 2021, 5:56 PM IST

Moscow: President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday sternly warned the West against further encroachment on Russia’s security interests, saying Moscow”s response will be “quick and tough.”

Putin’s warning during his annual state-of-the-nation address came amid a massive Russian military buildup near Ukraine, where cease-fire violations in the seven-year conflict between Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces have escalated in recent weeks. The United States and its allies have urged the Kremlin to pull the troops back.

“I hope that no one dares to cross the red line in respect to Russia, and we will determine where it is in each specific case,” Putin said.

“Those who organize any provocations threatening the core security interests of Russia will feel sorry for their deeds as never before.”

Moscow has rejected Ukrainian and Western concerns about the troop buildup, saying it doesn’t threaten anyone and Russia is free to deploy its forces on its territory. But the Kremlin also has warned Ukrainian authorities against trying to use force to retake control of the rebel-held east, saying that Russia could be forced to intervene to protect civilians in the region.

“We really don’t want to burn the bridges,” Putin said. “But if some mistake our good intentions for indifference or weakness and intend to burn or even blow up those bridges themselves, Russia’s response will be asymmetrical, quick, and tough.”

Putin pointed to Russia’s moves to modernize its nuclear arsenals and said the military would continue to procure a growing number of state-of-the-art hypersonic missiles and other new weapons. He added that the development of the nuclear-armed Poseidon underwater drone and the Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile is continuing successfully.

Without singling out a specific country, the Russian leader denounced, a foreign government that imposes “unlawful, politically motivated economic sanctions and crude attempts to enforce its will on others.”

He said Russia has shown restraint and often refrained from responding to “openly boorish” actions by others.

The Biden administration last week imposed an array of new sanctions on Russia for interfering in the 2020 US presidential election and for involvement in the SolarWind hack of federal agencies – activities Moscow has denied. The US ordered 10 Russian diplomats expelled, targeted dozens of companies and individuals, and imposed new curbs on Russia’s ability to borrow money.

Russia retaliated by ordering 10 US diplomats to leave, blacklisting eight current and former U.S. officials, and tightening requirements for U.S. Embassy operations.

“Russia has its own interests, which we will defend in line with the international law,” Putin said during Wednesday’s address. “If somebody refuses to understand this obvious thing, is reluctant to conduct a dialogue, and chooses a selfish and arrogant tone, Russia will always find a way to defend its position.”

He harshly criticized the West for failing to condemn what he described as a botched coup attempt and failed plot to assassinate Belarus” President Alexander Lukashenko, allegedly involving a blockade of the country’s capital, power cuts, and cyberattacks. Belarusian and Russian security agencies arrested the alleged coup plotters in Moscow earlier this month.

“The practice of organizing coups and planning political assassinations of top officials goes over the top and crosses all boundaries,” Putin said, drawing parallels between the alleged coup attempt in Belarus, plots against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, and the popular protests that led to the ouster of Ukraine”s former Russia-friendly president, Viktor Yanukovych, in 2014.

Russia responded to Yanukovych”s ouster by annexing Ukraine”s the Crimean Peninsula and throwing its support behind a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine. Since then, fighting in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 14,000 people and devastated the country’s industrial heartland.

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