During his annual State-of-the-Union address on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned western nations not to interfere with the developing conflict with Ukraine and not to “cross red lines.”
“We really don’t want to burn any bridges, but if someone takes our good intentions for indifference or weakness, and if they intend to burn or destroy those bridges themselves, they should know that Russia’s response would be asymmetrical, quick and tough,” Putin said in his address to top officials and both houses of the Russian parliament. Russia has enough “patience, responsibility, and common sense,” Putin said, but warned against crossing “the red line.”
“And where this line is, we will decide in any concrete case on our own,” he added. “The organizers of any provocations that threaten basic interests of our security will regret it like they haven’t regretted anything in a long time.”
There are over 110,000 Russian troops positioned on the Ukrainian border consisting of two combined armies, two air forces, and air defense armies, as well as the Black Sea fleet. 330 warplanes have been deployed near the Ukrainian borders, as well as 240 helicopters. The White House has pledged “unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression” but backed down from sending two Naval vessels into the Black Sea after the Kremlin issued a warning.
Putin also discussed the COVID crisis, thanking healthcare workers and praising the “real breakthrough” in developing vaccines.
“Russia now has three reliable vaccines against the coronavirus,” he said.
There are conflicting reports of the Russian death toll from the pandemic with the government reporting over 106,000 fatalities attributed to COVID-19. The Rosstat statistical agency set the toll at 224,000 people by the end of February.
The address came just a few hours before protests were scheduled to take place in 77 cities across Russia in support of Alexei Navalny, a Russian opposition leader, lawyer, and anti-corruption activist who is a fiercely outspoken opponent of Putin. Navalny has been prosecuted by the government several times. In August 2020, Navalny was hospitalized in serious condition after he was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent. Navalny accused Putin of being responsible for his poisoning and an investigation implicated agents from the Federal Security Service (FSB) in his poisoning. The EU, UK, and US responded by imposing sanctions on senior Russian officials. He was arrested for parole violations sentenced to over two and half years in a corrective labor colony in Vladimir. Oblast.
“The use of unjust sanctions is growing into something more dangerous: a coup attempt in Belarus,” Putin said in the address.
While in prison, Navalny and human rights groups have accused Russian authorities of using torture against him and his health has significantly deteriorated. Medical authorities have warned that Navalny is in danger of dying.