Putin Responds to Escalating Provocations from Washington, London and Brussels

Russian President Putin issued a “stern warning” in his 17th annual State of the Nation address on April 21 to those who threaten Russia’s fundamental sovereign interests. His remarks were especially sharp regarding the strategic crisis stemming from ongoing geopolitical provocations in Ukraine and against Belarus, even as he reiterated his desire for more cooperation, including a renewal of his call for a summit of the Permanent 5 members of the United Nations Security Council.

He particularly targeted the West’s use of sanctions and regime change operations as foreign policy tools. We quote: “everyone in the world seems to be used to the practice of politically motivated, illegal economic sanctions and to certain actors’ brutal attempts to impose their will on others by force. But today, this practice is degenerating into something even more dangerous –I am referring to the recently exposed direct interference in Belarus in an attempt to orchestrate a coup d’état and assassinate the President of that country. At the same time, it is typical that even such flagrant actions have not been condemned by the so-called collective West. Nobody seemed to notice. Everyone pretends nothing is happening.”

He repeated several times that Russia’s response to such provocations has been “restrained”, adding that his government would rather engage in dialogue than in severing relations. “But if someone mistakes our good intentions for indifference or weakness and intends to burn or even blow up these bridges, they must know that Russia’s response will be asymmetrical, swift and tough.

“Those behind provocations that threaten the core interests of our security will regret what they have done in a way they have not regretted anything for a long time.” He concluded this section of his speech by stating that he hopes “that no one will think about crossing the ‘red line’ with regard to Russia.”

Putin’s address was delivered as NATO’s Defender Europe 21 military maneuvers, the largest in years, were underway, and as tensions reached a boiling point over Ukraine, with U.S troops in Europe put on the “highest alert” status. Ukrainian officials, including President Zelensky, are calling for expedited entry into NATO (one of Russia’s “red lines”), while President Biden and others promised that the U.S. and NATO would not abandon them to the “aggressive” Russians. Even more threatening was the discovery of an assassination plot against Belarus President Lukashenko, as part of a regime change coup in Minsk. Accepting Ukraine into NATO, combined with a coup in Belarus, would potentially place NATO troops and offensive weapons on the entire western border of Russia.

Whether Joe Biden and the war hawks in his Administration and among NATO members are taking Putin’s warning seriously will be watched closely in Moscow. Just two weeks ago, Washington enhanced its financial warfare measures against Russia (cf. SAS 16/21), and new sanctions are envisaged, while the U.S. ambassador in Minsk took the highly provocative step of meeting with the supposed opposition leader to President Lukashenko on April 21.

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