Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered his annual State of the Union address on Wednesday (21 April), presenting a narrative according to which the West was playing a dangerous and hostile game against his country, which had no other choice but to defend itself.
Most of the speech was devoted to domestic issues, but in its last part the Russian leader warned that any foreign power “crossing the red line” with Russia should expect an “asymmetrical, swift and harsh” response.
Western ‘coup’ in Belarus
Putin went as far as accusing the West of staging massive sabotage and even trying to murder embattled Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, supporting the embattled leader’s claims that his security services had thwarted an alleged US plot to assassinate him.
Referring to “the admission of the detained participants in the Belarus conspiracy”, Putin claimed that “the blockade of Minsk was being prepared, including the city infrastructure and means of communication, the complete shutdown of the entire power system of the capital of Belarus” and that “preparations were under way for a massive cyber-attack”.
He compared the Belarus narrative to events in Ukraine during the Euromaidan in 2013, saying that “no one thought about the fate of Ukraine when the coup was carried out in this country”. Russia presents the popular uprising against the corrupt Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovich as a Western-sponsored coup d’état.
Further, Putin said that “unfriendly actions against Russia do not stop”.
This month Washington hit Moscow with new sanctions and expelled 10 Russian diplomats in retaliation for what it says is interference by the Kremlin in US elections, a massive cyber-attack and other hostile activity. In addition, several EU countries have expelled Russian diplomats accused of spying and of covert operations, including blowing up arms deposits.
Putin delivered his address just hours before country-wide demonstrations called by supporters of Alexei Navalny, who fear the life of Putin’s best-known critic is in grave danger as he wages a hunger strike in jail.
“In some countries, a nasty custom has been introduced – for any reason, and most often for no reason at all to cling to Russia. [It has become a] sport, some new kind of sport – who will say something louder [accusing Russia], he said.
“We really don’t want to burn bridges. But if someone perceives our good intentions as indifference or weakness and himself intends to finally burn or even blow up these bridges, he should know that Russia’s response will be asymmetrical, swift and harsh”, Putin said.
“The organizers of any provocations that threaten the fundamental interests of our security will regret what they have done in a way they have not regretted for a long time. […]But I hope that no one will think of crossing the so-called red line in relation to Russia,” he added.
Further, Putin boasted about the new Russian weapons. He said that the latest Avangard intercontinental-range missile systems and Peresvet laser combat systems were already on alert, and the first regiment, fully equipped with Sarmat heavy intercontinental ballistic missiles, would enter combat duty according to plan at the end of 2022.
Also, he said that the number of attack aircraft complexes with the Kinzhal hypersonic missile, ships equipped with high-precision hypersonic weapons such as Kinzhal and Caliber missiles was increasing, and the Zircon hypersonic missiles would be put on alert in the near future. Work was underway on other “most modern combat systems, including Poseidon, Petrel and other systems”.
Putin said that as a leader in the creation of new generation combat systems and in the development of modern nuclear forces, Russia urges its international partners to discuss issues related to strategic weapons and ensuring global stability.
In his words, the subject of such negotiations could be the creation of an environment of conflict-free coexistence based on the security equation, which would encompass not only traditional strategic weapons such as intercontinental ballistic missiles, heavy bombers and submarines, but also all offensive and defensive systems capable of solving strategic tasks.
The Russian leader added that the countries of the nuclear five had a special responsibility, and expressed the hope that the initiative for meeting in person of the heads of state – permanent members of the UN Security Council, which Russia put forward last year, would take place as soon as the pandemic permitted.
[Edited by Josie Le Blond]