Wednesday, 05 May, 2021


Almost 1,500 reportedly detained as Putin warns West of 'red line'

Questions to the government at the National Assembly French Foreign Minister Jean Yves Le Drian | Mohammed Badra EFE via EPA By Rym Momtaz
Patty Aguilar | 22 April, 2021, 16:50

President Vladimir Putin warned western governments Wednesday not to "cross the red line" in respect to Russia's security interests.

Allies of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny called for nationwide protests across Russian Federation on Wednesday to support him.

Navalny, 44, has been on hunger strike since March 31 in protest against prison authorities' refusal to allow a private doctor to see him to treat severe back pain and loss of feeling in his legs.

Putin was due on Thursday to meet Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has turned to Russian Federation for support amid a wave of protests against his 27-year rule, raising the prospect of closer economic and security ties between the two states.

The West has backed the calls for Navalny to be freed and provided with medical care, one of a litany of disputes that have raised tensions with Moscow to new highs.

The remarks came Wednesday during his annual state-of-the-nation speech, delivered to top officials and both houses of the Russian parliament, and Putin also said Russia is striving for good relations with other countries. Putin, who never publicly uses Navalny's name, did not specify to whom the denunciation referred, but Western governments have been harshly critical of Navalny's treatment and have called for his release.

He did however hit out at rivals overseas, with Moscow and Western capitals at loggerheads over a Russian troop build-up on Ukraine's borders and a series of espionage scandals that have resulted in diplomatic expulsions.

His organisation had said protests would take place in more than 180 cities, but it was not immediately clear if they would match the massive turnout for protests in January that were the largest in Russian Federation in a decade.

"But if someone mistakes our good intentions for indifference or weakness and intends to burn down or even blow up these bridges, they should know that Russia's response will be asymmetrical, swift and harsh".

Putin said, "I hope that no one will think of crossing the red line with Russian Federation. And where it will be - we will determine that ourselves", Putin said. Putin announced new social support measures for families with children ahead of a September parliamentary election.

Demonstrations took place in large cities in the Far East, the Urals and Siberia including Vladivostok and Novosibirsk.

Demonstrations are expected in more than 100 cities and towns across Russian Federation. Turnout estimates varied widely: Moscow police said 6,000 people demonstrated in the capital, while an observer told Navalny's YouTube channel that the crowd was about 60,000.

"This is a fight for the future - we don't have any here", 51-year-old protester Andrei Zamyatin told AFP in central Moscow.

"There's an internal authoritarian drift, the targeting of Navalny is insufferable ... an external provocation and intimidation drift, with what is happening in Ukraine ... and attempts at interference by trying to attack our democratic institutions".

The Kremlin's fiercest foe was arrested in January after returning from Germany where he was undergoing rehabilitation after being poisoned with the nerve agent novichok, which he blames on the Kremlin.

In February, a Moscow court ordered him to serve two-and-a-half years in prison on a 2014 embezzlement conviction that the European Court of Human Rights deemed to be "arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable".

Supporters of President Vladimir Putin's most prominent opponent fear he soon could die in prison, where he is on hunger strike, and are demanding he be given proper medical care.

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