- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened on Wednesday to respond with “asymmetrical, swift and harsh” punishment if America and its allies cross “red lines” the Kremlin has set with regard to friction points between Russia and the West.

The dire rhetoric, which Mr. Putin leveled up during an at times fiery state of the nation address, comes at a moment of elevated tension between Washington and Moscow over Russia‘s recent buildup of military forces on the Ukrainian border and other provocative moves.

Mr. Putin did not name the United States during Wednesday’s speech, or say what the specific red lines the Kremlin has set on Ukraine. He asserted broadly that the lines will be defined in relations with other countries on a case-by-case basis.

He also claimed Russia‘s intention is not to escalate tensions, but to have “good relations” with other nations, even as he described Russia at one point as being like a tiger surrounded by hyenas.

“I have to say this. We have patience, responsibility, professionalism, confidence in ourselves and our rightness, as well as common sense when making any decision,” Mr. Putin said, according to the Russian news agency TASS. “But, I hope that nobody would decide to cross the so-called red line in relations with Russia, and we will define those [red lines] on our own in every individual case.”

There was no immediate reaction from the Biden administration, whom analysts say Mr. Putin has been testing in recent weeks through the Ukraine provocations and through increasingly aggressive posturing in other arenas, most notably the Arctic, where recently circulated satellite photos showed an unprecedented establishment of Russian military infrastructure.

President Biden has taken a dual-track approach to Mr. Putin, on one hand referring to the Russian president as “a killer” in a recent interview, while on the other hand reaching out via telephone to Mr. Putin and proposing a face-to-face summit with him.

The White House leveled a slate of fresh U.S. sanctions on Russia last week for interfering in the 2020 U.S. presidential election and for involvement in the SolarWind hack of American federal agencies — activities Moscow has denied. Washington also expelled 10 Russian diplomats. The Kremlin retaliated by ordering 10 U.S. diplomats to leave Moscow.

An Associated Press account of Mr. Putin‘s speech on Wednesday said he did not single out a specific country in his remarks, but denounced a foreign government that imposes “unlawful, politically motivated economic sanctions and crude attempts to enforce its will on others.”

He also claimed Russia has shown restraint and often refrained from responding to “openly boorish” actions by others.

Reuters reported that the bulk of the 78-minute speech was focused on Russia‘s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic hardship, with the heated rhetoric about red lines occurring briefly at the climax of the speech.

“In some countries, they have developed a highly unseemly habit of picking on Russia for any reason, and most often for no reason at all — a kind of sport,” the Russian president said, standing alone on a vast stage flanked by white, blue and red national flags and a backdrop of a giant double-headed eagle, according to Reuters.

“Organizers of any provocations that threaten our core security interests,” he said, “will regret what they have done like they’ve never regretted anything for a long time.”

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