Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday gave his 17th annual state-of-the-nation address to a joint session of the Russian parliament in Moscow, which is arguably his most important given the number of different crises the country faces both at home and abroad.
Not only does a 'new Ukraine conflict' loom amid mounting international pressure for Russia to reduce its forces in Crimea and near the border with eastern Ukraine, but hunger-striking Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny's supporters are planning widespread protests Wednesday. Putin's address further comes days after Biden's sanctions rollout targeting the Kremlin as well as select Russian companies and government entities last Thursday. Moscow is further trying to get the coronavirus pandemic under control, as it also faces geopolitical roadblocks in efforts to export its Sputnik V vaccine more broadly, and a continued weakening ruble and economy at home.
Putin introduced first that he would focus domestic issues, but would leave "just a few words about security issues." While he didn't unveil any major moves in relation to he Ukraine or Belarus situations in his speech, he did have some interesting things to say about attempts to "organize a coup in Belarus" - which is something "the West is silent on...".
The New York Times summarized of this moment of Putin's annual address to the nation:
"Now in his third decade in power, Mr. Putin, 68, appears more convinced than ever of his special, historic role as the father of a reborn Russian nation, fighting at home and abroad against a craven, hypocritical, morally decaying West."
Putin said related to Russia's deteriorating relations with the West, especially the United States, "If someone uses an arrogant and selfish tone, Russia will always find a way to defend its position."
He also sarcastically and somewhat humorously quipped, "This is turning into some kind of sport — who can say something negative about Russia the loudest."
Protests in support of @navalny begin in eastern Russia.— Bianna Golodryga (@biannagolodryga) April 21, 2021
His team has called for protests across the country’s 11 time zones at 7pm local, describing it as the “final test between good and neutrality”.
Russian police are expected to be out in full force. https://t.co/glFtUfxxQs
Below are some further key quotes from the speech on Foreign Policy...
"We behave in a restrained, modest manner. Oftentimes we do not respond to outright rudeness; we want to have good relations. We are not looking to burn any bridges."
"I hope no one will think of crossing so-called 'red lines' against Russia, which we ourselves will define in each separate case. Russia’s response will be symmetrical, fast and tough. The organizers of any provocations threatening our core security interests will regret their actions more than they've regretted anything in a long time."
"But now this practice is degenerating into something more dangerous — for example, an attempt to organize a coup in Belarus and an attempt to assassinate this country's president.... The West is silent on this matter."
"You can have any position on Lukashenko's policies, but staging a goverment coup and planning the assassination of a head of state is too much."
And on Biden's recent sanctions...
"It seems that everyone is already accustomed to the practice of imposing illegal, politically motivated sanctions, attempts to impose their will on others by force."
Russia's President Vladimir Putin gives his annual State of Nation Address in Moscow against a backdrop of growing tensions with Ukraine pic.twitter.com/QlLkaG8ciH— TRT World Now (@TRTWorldNow) April 21, 2021
On nuclear weapons and strategic deterrence, he said...
"Russia once again urges its partners to discuss issues related to strategic weapons, possibly to create an environment of conflict-free coexistence."
"Advanced weaponry in Russia’s nuclear triad that comprises strategic aircraft, intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear-powered missile-carrying submarines will top 88% this year."
"The share of advanced weapons and hardware in the troops will make up almost 76% by 2024. This is a very good figure. In the nuclear triad, it will exceed 88% already this year."
The pandemic and economy, amid a backdrop of the ruble continuing to weaken against the dollar...
"It was impossible to avoid budget cuts [last year] altogether. To support the creation of new jobs, the state will stimulate business. I'm instructing the government to submit additional measures to support small and medium-sized businesses, including in the tax area, within a month."
"The pandemic has exacerbated problems of social inequality and poverty around the world. We are faced with rising prices. It is impossible to rely only on targeted, directive measures. This leads to empty shelves, as was the case in the late 1980s. Now, even at the peak of the epidemic, we did not allow this. With the help of market mechanisms, it is necessary to ensure price containment."
"The main thing is to ensure the growth of citizens' real incomes."
"Russia must be ready to develop test systems and vaccines within four days in case of a new dangerous infection."
"Along with a naturally great anxiety, I personally had a firm conviction that we would overcome all trials [of the pandemic]. Having rallied together, we were able to work ahead of the curve. The number of beds in hospitals has increased more than fivefold... For the enormous work of people in all regions, I want to thank you from all my heart."
"The three coronavirus vaccines developed in Russia are a direct embodiment of our country’s growing scientific and technological potential."
"I'm appealing to all citizens of Russia: Get vaccinated. This will allow the formation of herd immunity by the fall."
Reversing Russia's demographic decline...
"The demographic crisis of the 1940s and 1990s is hitting us now. The preservation of the Russian people is our highest national priority."
"Russia will always defend and defend traditional values that have been forgotten in a number of countries."
"In 2030, the average life expectancy should be 78 years. We will not change our strategic goals in this area. This is a daunting task, especially since the coronavirus has not yet been completely defeated. We see how dramatically the situation is developing in other countries. We need to keep the line on all frontiers of the fight against coronavirus."
"Our goal is to reach a steady growth of the Russian population."
On Russia's traditional spiritual and moral values as a unifying force for the nation...
He noted that throughout history, the people of Russia had triumphed over their trials and tribulations thanks to their unity.
"And today, family, friendship, mutual assistance, and compassion have come to the fore for us. Spiritual and moral values, which some countries are forgetting about, have, on the contrary, made us stronger, and we will always uphold and protect these values," Putin pledged.
Putin added that the service of representatives of traditional religions had become "the spiritual backbone of society, as it always was in difficult times." That said, the head of state addressed the clergy present in the hall, "I would like to take a deep bow before you all. Thank you very much."
And one interesting note from the speech in US-funded media outlet Radio Free Europe...
One new development was Putin's revelation that he is a fan of the "great writer" Rudyard Kipling.
Putin dropped the English novelist's name while alleging that many countries were making a sport of ganging up on Russia, with "all kinds of small Tabaquis running around Shere Khan...howling to gain the favor of their ruler."
The assumption is that Putin meant that the tiger king Shere Khan was the United States and the scrap-eating jackals surrounding him were U.S. allies, but he did not give any hint as to which Jungle Book character Russia might be.
Nevertheless, pro-Kremlin blogger Maksim Kononenko described the comment on Telegram as "powerful," while alleging that Kipling was an "imperialist and a Nazist." Other commenters on the thread suggested, however, that Putin's "joke about Kipling being a good writer did not go over well."
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Meanwhile, the European Union seen as a bunch of hyenas...
Nothing too exciting in the big annual Putin speech, perhaps apart from suggestion that a coup attempt against Lukashenko had been exposed. Countries being critical of 🇷🇺 were described as a tiger with hyenas around. I guess he sees 🇪🇺 as a bunch of hyenas. pic.twitter.com/vbJwThvS7f— Carl Bildt (@carlbildt) April 21, 2021