Over 1,000 ‘detained’ as UN calls for urgent treatment abroad for Navalny
President Vladimir Putin warned foreign rivals yesterday against “crossing the red line” with Russia, as he gave a key speech amid deep tensions with the West over Ukraine and jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
Several thousand of Navalny’s supporters took to the streets in nationwide demonstrations against his detention, but the protests were not on the scale seen earlier this year, when tens of thousands rallied and thousands were arrested.
Addressing lawmakers and senior officials in his annual state of the nation address, Putin said Russia would respond swiftly and harshly to moves against its interests and condemned what he said had been a coup attempt in ally Belarus.
“The organisers of any provocations threatening the fundamental interests of our security will regret their deeds, more than they have regretted anything in a long time,” Putin said.
Putin unsurprisingly made no mention of Navalny in his speech — he has always refused to use the name of his most prominent opponent.
He did however hit out at rivals abroad, with Moscow and Western capitals at loggerheads over Navalny, a Russian troop build-up on Ukraine’s borders and a series of espionage scandals that resulted in diplomatic expulsions.
Putin said it had become “a new kind of sport” in some foreign capitals to blame Russia “for anything”.
He said Russia wants good relations with everyone, but warned of an “asymmetrical, swift and harsh” response if that was seen as a weakness.
“I hope that no-one will think of crossing the red line in relation to Russia. And where it will be — we will determine that ourselves,” Putin said.
Putin also backed claims by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko that his security services had thwarted an alleged US plot to assassinate him, suggesting there had been a “coup attempt” and accusing the West of pretending “that nothing is happening”.
Putin is due to meet Lukashenko — who has faced down historic protests since a disputed re-election last summer — in Moscow today, amid speculation of a major announcement on Russia’s policy towards its ex-Soviet neighbour and ally.
Much of Putin’s address was devoted to new social spending, as the longtime leader looks to shore up support for his deeply unpopular United Russia party ahead of parliamentary elections in September.
Meanwhile, more than a thousand people were detained yesterday at protests in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny including over 350 people in Saint Petersburg, said a monitoring group OVD-Info which tracks detentions at opposition protests.
Two of his closest allies were also arrested in Moscow on the same day that Putin delivered the state-of-the-nation speech.
A group of UN rights experts also expressed alarm yesterday at the deteriorating health of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and called for his urgent medical evacuation from Russia.
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