Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned the West not to cross the “red line” with Russia, calling it a coup plot against Belarus.
The warning came in the wake of intense tensions with the West over Ukraine and the imprisonment of Alexei Navalny, a critic of Putin.
He said that “The use of unjust sanctions is growing into something more dangerous: coup attempts in Belarus”.
He backed Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who faces big opposition.
On April 17th, Belarusian authorities announced that they had foiled a plot to assassinate US-backed President Lukashenko. They say Russia’s FSB security service helped them defeat the coup attempt.
Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya dismissed the claim as “provocation.”
There have been widespread protests in support of Mr. Lukashenko since he was re-elected last year, with widespread condemnation of vote-rigging. Police beat and arrested thousands of protesters.
A Warning to the West?
President Putin has said that Russia wants good relations with all countries, but that Western powers are still trying to “pick on” Russia.
“We don’t want to burn the bridge, but if someone interprets our good intentions as a weakness, our response will be outstanding, quick, and tough.”
“We will decide for ourselves in each case,” he added.
Tensions are running high in Ukraine, with Russia withdrawing more than a hundred thousand troops from the disputed region, the report said.
A large part of this force is in Crimea, the peninsula that Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. General Sere Nayve, a senior Ukrainian official, last week estimated the total at 103,200.
Russia has backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, and its tactics have raised fears of new Russian military intervention.
Mr. Putin’s speech came as anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, an arch-critic of the president, was being treated at a prison hospital in Vladimir, about 180 kilometers (112 miles) east of Moscow. He is on a hunger strike and his associates say his life is in danger.
Mr. Putin addressed both chambers of the Russian parliament at 12:00 (09:00 GMT) at the Manez Exhibition Hall in Moscow. The RIA Novosti news agency says everyone present had to undergo three tests for the Covid-19 in recent days.