President Vladimir Putin warned the West on Wednesday not to cross Russia’s “red lines”, saying Moscow would respond swiftly and harshly to any provocations and those responsible would regret it.
At a time of acute crisis in ties with the United States and Europe, with Russian troops massed near Ukraine and opposition leader Alexei Navalny on hunger strike in jail, the Kremlin leader used his state of the nation speech to project a message of Russian strength and defiance in the face of outside threats.
“We want good relations…and really don’t want to burn bridges,” Putin told both houses of parliament.
“But if someone mistakes our good intentions for indifference or weakness and intends to burn down or even blow up these bridges, they should know that Russia’s response will be asymmetrical, swift and harsh.”
Russia would determine where its red line lay in each specific case, he said, comparing the country to a tiger surrounded by hyenas.
His comments came at the climax of a 78-minute speech dominated by Russia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic hardship.
“In some countries, they have developed a highly unseemly habit of picking on Russia for any reason, and most often for no reason at all – a kind of sport,” said Putin, standing alone on a vast stage flanked by white, blue and red national flags and a backdrop of a giant double-headed eagle.
“Organizers of any provocations that threaten our core security interests will regret what they have done like they’ve never regretted anything for a long time.”
Putin, who is 68 and has dominated Russia for two decades, made no mention of Navalny. The opposition leader is ill in prison after starving himself for three weeks to demand access to his own doctors.
The rouble firmed after Putin’s speech, with markets interpreting it as not escalating tensions with the West.