(BBC) – Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned the West not to cross a “red line” with Russia, saying such a move would trigger an “asymmetrical, rapid and harsh” response.
The warning came in his annual state of the nation address, amid heightened tension with the West over Ukraine and jailed Putin critic Alexei Navalny.
Mr Putin said Western powers were constantly trying to “pick on” Russia.
Police have detained nearly 100 Navalny supporters rallying in several cities.
Hundreds staged pro-Navalny protests on Wednesday in eastern cities including Vladivostok, Irkutsk and Krasnoyarsk. The authorities have declared them illegal.
The anti-corruption campaigner is being treated at a prison hospital in Vladimir, about 180km (112 miles) east of Moscow. He is on hunger strike and his allies say his life is in danger.
Belarus ‘coup plot’
Mr Putin focused most of his speech on Russia’s battle against Covid-19 and its plans to improve welfare and economic development.
But he accused the West of threatening stability in Russia and its ex-Soviet neighbours Belarus and Ukraine.
“The use of unjust sanctions is growing into something more dangerous: a coup attempt in Belarus,” he said.
He backs Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who faces huge opposition since claiming re-election last year, in a vote widely condemned as rigged. The two presidents will hold talks in Moscow on Thursday.
The coup claim was dismissed by the exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya as a “provocation”.
Since last August’s disputed election, massive demonstrations in support of her have taken place, with thousands of protesters beaten up by police and detained.
Warning to West
President Putin said some Western countries were like jackals trying to please the US, just as a jackal behaves with the tiger Shere Khan in Kipling’s tale The Jungle Book.
“We don’t want to burn bridges, but if somebody interprets our good intentions as weakness, our reaction will be asymmetrical, rapid and harsh,” he said. “We’ll decide for ourselves in each case where the red line is.”