PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN HAS ISSUED A WARNING THAT ANYONE WHO THREATENS RUSSIA `WILL REGRET IT LIKE THEY'VE NEVER REGRETTED ANYTHING BEFORE.'
Follows Biden warning on Navalny's health
MOSCOW • President Vladimir Putin issued a warning during his annual address to the government that anyone in the international community who threatens Russia “will regret it like they've never regretted anything before.”
Yet it was domestically where the government was being challenged Wednesday, with the opposition calling for mass protests across the country in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. The last time such demonstrations took place in January and February, 11,000 people were jailed.
Rallies in Russia's Far East regions kicked off as Putin's speech began in Moscow. Turnouts were modest, but the biggest crowds were expected to be in Moscow and St. Petersburg later in the evening.
Although Putin devoted the majority of his speech to promising a better life for Russians facing economic hardships, his veiled threats to the West come amid tense relations with Moscow: Russia's military buildup along the Ukrainian border has been widely criticized and it's embroiled in a diplomatic feud with the Czech Republic after authorities there said Russian agents were responsible for a 2014 ammunition depot explosion.
The United States last week slapped Russia with economic sanctions to punish it for a cyberespionage campaign and efforts to influence the presidential election. Then on Monday, the Biden administration vowed “consequences” for the Kremlin if Navalny dies in prison, as his allies have raised alarms about his failing health.
“We don't want to burn bridges, but when someone views our good intentions as indifference or weakness and intends to blow up these bridges in turn, they must know Russia's response will be asymmetrical, swift and harsh,” Putin said Wednesday. “I hope no one will cross the red line in regards to Russia. And where this red line will be drawn, we will decide for ourselves.”
Navalny, who returned to Russia in January after surviving a nerve-agent poisoning he said was ordered by Putin, is serving a more than two-year sentence. He is three weeks into a hunger strike.