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Putin warns West of harsh response if it crosses Russia’s ‘red lines’

Reuters

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President Vladimir Putin (pictured) warned the West on Wednesday (21 April) not to cross Russia’s “red lines”, saying Moscow would respond swiftly and harshly to any provocations and those responsible would regret it, write Gleb Stolyarov, Andrew Osborn, Vladimir Soldatkin, Anton Kolodyazhnyy and Anton Zverev.

At a time of acute crisis in ties with the United States and Europe, with Russian troops massed near Ukraine and opposition leader Alexei Navalny on hunger strike in jail, the Kremlin leader used his state of the nation speech to project a message of Russian strength and defiance in the face of outside threats.

"We want good relations...and really don't want to burn bridges," Putin told both houses of parliament.

"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."

Russia would determine where its red line lay in each specific case, he said, comparing those who attack it to hyenas led by a tiger.

His comments came at the climax of a speech dominated by Russia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic hardship. Putin announced new social support measures for families with children ahead of a September parliamentary election.

He adopted a sterner tone when setting out foreign policy.

"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," said Putin, standing alone on a vast stage flanked by white, blue and red national flags and a backdrop of a giant double-headed eagle.

"Organisers of any provocations that threaten our core security interests will regret what they have done like they've never regretted anything for a long time."

Putin, who is 68 and has dominated Russia for two decades, made no mention of Navalny. The opposition politician is ill in prison after starving himself for three weeks to demand access to his own doctors.

The rouble firmed after Putin’s speech, with markets interpreting it as not escalating tensions with the West.

Confrontation with West

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual address to the Federal Assembly in Moscow, Russia April 21, 2021. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a session of the board of trustees of the Russian Geographical Society via a video conference call in Moscow, Russia April 14, 2021. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
Kira Yarmysh, spokeswoman of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, waits outside a hospital, where Navalny receives medical treatment in Omsk, Russia August 21, 2020. Navalny began feeling ill, en route from Tomsk to Moscow, on a plane which made an emergency landing in Omsk due to his serious condition. REUTERS/Alexey Malgavko

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a session of the board of trustees of the Russian Geographical Society via a video conference call in Moscow, Russia April 14, 2021. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS

Recent weeks have seen an intensification of confrontation between Russia and Western countries, which are alarmed by Navalny's worsening condition and by what they say is the massing of tens of thousands of Russian troops near Ukraine and in Russian-annexed Crimea.

Washington last week tightened sanctions on Russia over accusations of computer hacking and election interference, and the Czech Republic accused Moscow of a role in explosions at an arms depot in 2014. Both expelled Russian diplomats. Russia denied wrongdoing and responded with tit-for-tat expulsions.

Moscow summoned a senior US diplomat on Wednesday and said 10 embassy staff it expelled last week had a month to leave and that it would be disclosing the details of other punitive measures it had promised soon.

Tensions are also strained over the fate of Navalny, whose supporters rallied across Russia on Wednesday in his support.

Two of Navalny's closest allies were arrested on Wednesday, their lawyers said. Lyubov Sobol, one of the faces of Navalny's popular YouTube channel, and Kira Yarmysh, his spokeswoman, were both detained in Moscow.

One Navalny aide, Ruslan Shaveddinov, tweeted: "Right now across the whole of Russia they are detaining potential protesters. This is repression. This cannot be accepted. We need to fight this darkness."

European Council President Charles Michel called the arrests "deplorable" and urged Russian authorities to respect people's right to assemble.

OVD-Info, a group that monitors protests and detentions, said that nearly 300 people had been detained over the rallies in dozens of different places. The figure was expected to climb.

The Russian government has said the gatherings are illegal. Previous pro-Navalny rallies have been dispersed by force, with thousands of arrests.

Four doctors from outside Russia's federal prison service visited Navalny on Tuesday and found his health to be satisfactory, Russian human rights commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova said.

In his speech, Putin urged all citizens to get vaccinated and predicted that Russia would achieve collective immunity by the autumn.

On the eve of an online climate summit to be hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden, Putin also called for tougher “polluter pays” rules and set a goal for Russia to cut its greenhouse gas emissions below those of the European Union in the next 30 years.

EU

Putin reviews Russian military might as tensions with West soar

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Russia's President Vladimir Putin waves as he leaves after the Victory Day Parade in Red Square in Moscow, Russia June 24, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

President Vladimir Putin (pictured) reviewed Russia's traditional World War Two victory parade on Sunday (9 May), a patriotic display of raw military power that this year coincides with soaring tensions with the West.

The parade on Moscow's Red Square commemorating the 76th anniversary of the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two featured over 12,000 troops andmore than 190 pieces of military hardware, including intercontinental ballistic missile launchers, and a fly-past by nearly 80 military aircraft under cloudy skies.

Putin, who has been in power as either president or prime minister since 1999, stood beside Soviet war veterans on a review platform set up on Red Square.

"Unfortunately there are once again attempts to deploy many things from the ideology of the Nazis, those who were obsessed with a delusional theory on their exclusiveness. And not only (by) all sorts of radicals and international terrorist groups," Putin said in what appeared to be a common denunciation of the West but what the Kremlin said was aimed at the rise of neo-Nazism in Europe.

"Russia will again and again uphold international law, but at the same time we will firmly protect national interests (and) ensure the security of our people."

This year's parade precedes parliamentary elections in September and comes at a time when Moscow's relations with the West are acutely strained over issues ranging from the conflict in Ukraine to the fate of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

The United States and Russia have expelled each other's diplomats in recent months in a series of retaliatory moves and Moscow and EU member states have been involved in a similar tit-for-tat diplomatic dispute.

Sunday's parade follows a massive show of Russian military force near the borders of Ukraine and in Crimea, which Russia annexed from Kyiv in 2014, and an uptick in fighting in eastern Ukraine between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian government forces.

Moscow said the build-up, which alarmed the West, was a training exercise in response to activity by the NATO military alliance and Ukraine. It has since ordered a withdrawal of some troops. Read more

Smaller military parades took place on Sunday in cities across Russia and in annexed Crimea, and at Russia's Hmeymim air base in Syria.

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Stalinism or a feat of the people?

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The Second World War ended almost 76 years ago, but the debate around this topic has not finished to this day. And, if for Russians the Great Patriotic War is a sacred and untouchable page of history, in the Western community a revisionist approach flourishes among different circles, bordering on a deliberate distortion of historical facts and real events – write Evgeny Dumalkin and Alexander Arifov.

The most “fashionable" trend in the last few years has been attempts to lay the blame for the outbreak of the 2nd World War equally on Germany and the Soviet Union, led by Stalin, who is put on a par with Hitler. 

Despite the decisions of the Nuremberg Tribunal, politicians from different countries publicly make statements that not only Nazi Germany, but also the leadership of the USSR was behind the outbreak of war in 1939. Stalin is accused of a "criminal collusion" with Hitler, implying the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and in particular, its secret protocol.

Europe on the eve of the 2nd World War: geopolitical chaos

Another memorable date associated with the defeat of Nazism in Europe, makes us going back to the 1930s of the 20th century and once again analyzing the events that led to the most terrible war.

The regime of the Weimar Republic established in 1919, as well as the disunity of the political elite in Europe, became the fertile ground that nurtured Hitler and the national socialist regime in Germany. 

On one side was the vast and growing Soviet Union with its communist ideology. On the other hand, capitalist Europe, which tried its best to contain the USSR. 

The rise to power of the Nazis in Germany in 1933 further fueled the flames of ideological competition on the continent. The rapidly gaining strength of the political, economic and, of course, the military machine of Hitler gave a chance to establish a kind of «ram" against Moscow.

In the 1930s, the ideology of national socialism was rapidly gaining popularity in Europe - it was seen as the opposite and powerful force to communist ideas.

Such trends in politics, as well as the weakness of international institutions of cooperation - the League of Nations was almost obsolete, gradually losing any practical meaning - characterized the chaos that reigned in international relations at that time.

Hitler actively strengthened the position of Germany, including abandoning any deterrent mechanisms in military development. Britain and France actually condoned Hitler's expansionism by giving the green light to his aggressive policies. The partition of Czechoslovakia, and then its transformation into a protectorate, the Anschluss of Austria, the annexation of Danzig, and finally the Munich Treaty  - all these and many other actions of the German leadership, with the tacit consent of Europe, almost brought the continent to the brink of war. 

On this background, Stalin had his own "giveaway game" with Hitler, which resulted in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with the protocol on the Europe's division.

Both sides had stroke many agreements with Hitler and were sure that he was in their hands, and would go to war wherever he was told. They acted completely synchronously. The Munich Agreement and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact are two identical documents in their meaning, so it would be much wiser and more effective to admit that the Second World War was caused by the monstrously inept and short-sighted actions of both sides, but this is hardly possible to acknowledge outside of a narrow community of historians, who already understand everything.

Attempts to make adjustments to the nature and results of the 2nd World War pursue, in our opinion, quite specific political goals of an anti-Russian nature, and not the search for historical truth. It is more relevant and fair to speak out about the USSR people's feat which we are keen to depict on own families' examples.

Feat of the Soviet people

For the Soviet Union, the war with Nazi Germany was an extremely difficult, bloody test. The country has lost, according to some sources, up to 30 million people, including military and civilian casualties. More than 30% of the national heritage has been destroyed. Such damage is not comparable to what other countries, including Germany, have lost.

To this day, historians and researchers, both in Russia and abroad, argue about the tactics of the Soviet leadership, the military command and Stalin personally on the eve and during the war. Different opinions often heard that the losses were excessive. It is claimed that Stalin did not want to provoke Hitler, so there were such high losses in manpower and equipment in the first stage of the war. Other points of view are also expressed, for example, about the notorious "barrage detachments" and the famous order "no step back". 

In any case, even taking into account the miscalculations of the country's leadership and Stalin personally, the Soviet people showed incredible heroism, endurance and perseverance in the fight against German aggression. 

The words "unprecedented feat of the people" conceal incredible strength of spirit, will and devotion to the Homeland. Soviet propaganda added that soldiers used the call "For the Homeland, For Stalin". However, numerous testimonies show that people, first of all, fought for their land, homes and families. It is enough to recall the unprecedented scale of the partisan movement, which was not the case in Europe. 

One would't find a single family in the Soviet Union that has not been affected by the war. Moreover, people cherish the memory of their dead ancestors, pass this memory to their children. 

Our grandfathers told us: "War is a daily and hourly hard work. life in conditions of constant restrictions and deprivations: physical, material, moral, spiritual. There are some examples from the memories of our families' veterans:

  • To be with two children in German-occupied territory, one of whom died in his arms after picking up a child's toy, specially mined by the retreating Germans. To see how the invaders treated the Soviet people — it was not a struggle against the state of the USSR, it was a war with the people, children, women...
  • Once surrounded in the autumn, to sit for almost three days in the swamp, waiting for the Germans to remove the cordon on its banks to then reach Russian troops. Do not give up and pay for a lifetime of chronic kidney disease.
  • Fighting on the other part of the country, to come home in 1943 and personally evacuate the family from the Crimea raging in battles to Orenburg (1500 km).

There was a deep belief in victory, there was an understanding of something higher among those deaths, battles, the horrors of war, our grandfathers told us. It was a war of people who did not lose their human qualities.

A vivid confirmation of this family memory is the holding of the so-called "immortal regiments" processions in the cities of Russia and all over the world, where our compatriots live.

The war marked a sharp difference between the Nazis and the Soviet soldiers. The Nazis, driven by racial hatred and propaganda, brutally destroyed people in the occupied territories, millions of people were driven to work in Germany, were sent to concentration camps. 

The Soviet people, when the liberation of Europe from the fascists began, especially when the Red Army troops came to Germany, did not take revenge and did no evil towards the Germans.  It is enough to recall that Stalin emphasised: "The Hitlers come and go but the German people, and the German state remains."

The Soviet soldiers suffered the main hardships of the war. Of course, someone, especially in the West, can claim that the army was following Stalin's orders and the soldier was driven by fear. But the facts prove that a huge numbers of superhuman achievements and the mass scale of heroism both at the front line and in the rear, both from adults and  teenagers, were the result of the fact that the Soviet people understood and realized that they were defending not only the Homeland, but also the very fact of the future existence of themselves, their children and grandchildren.

Evgeny Dumalkin is the partner of Amaltheya Capital Partners, Moscow

Alexander Arifov is the CEO of Runa Bank, Moscow

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Russia: Summoning of the Russian Ambassador to the EU

EU Reporter Correspondent

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European Commission Secretary General Ilze Juhansone and External Action Service Secretary General Stefano Sannino jointly summoned the Ambassador of Russian Federation to the European Union Vladimir Chizhov (pictured) to condemn the decision of the Russian authorities from last Friday (30 April) to ban eight European Union nationals from entering the territory of the Russian Federation. 

Ambassador Chizhov was informed of the strong rejection and firm condemnation by the EU institutions and EU member states of this decision, which was purely politically motivated and lacks any legal justification.

Secretaries-General I. Juhansone and S. Sannino also recalled Russia's expulsion of Czech diplomats and the executive order of the Russian Federation of so called “unfriendly states”, expressing their grave concern for the cumulative impact of all these decisions on the relations between the EU and the government of the Russian Federation.

They also noted that the EU reserves the right to take appropriate measures in response.

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