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Moscow will respond “harshly,” “quickly” and “asymmetrically” to foreign provocations, Putin told an audience of Russia’s top officials and lawmakers, adding that he “hoped” no foreign actor would cross Russia’s “red lines,” according to a Reuters translation.
The 68-year-old leader condemned what he described as the constant tendency of international actors to blame Russia for wrongdoing, saying it had become like a sport.
The comments came in the final half hour of the 90-minute speech, which was predominantly focused on Russia’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic and domestic economic and social issues.
The speech came against the backdrop of deteriorating tensions with the U.S. and EU, and follows the recent imposition of sanctions on Russia from the Biden administration over alleged cyberattacks, human rights violations and a Russian military buildup along the border with Ukraine.
As the address was taking place, protests have taken place across Russia in support of the jailed Putin critic Alexei Navalny, who has become dangerously ill and has been moved to a prison hospital following a hunger strike. The news prompted warnings from the U.S. that there would be “consequences” if Russia allows Navalny to die in jail.
Over 100 people have been detained in the protests so far on Wednesday, according to OVD-Info, an independent Russian NGO that monitors rallies.
In addition, Russia has been accused of orchestrating an attack on a Czech armaments dump in 2014, with the Czech Republic expelling 18 Russian diplomats in recent days.
Russia denies that two of its military intelligence agents — the same men believed to have carried out a nerve agent attack on a former spy in Britain in 2018 — carried out the Czech attack, but the news has nonetheless added to the negative news flow around Putin’s Russia.