Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, as he speaks during his annual situation of the nation address in Moscow, Russia, on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to address the nation on Wednesday in his annual “Magnificence of the Nation” address, a speech that will take place amid growing tensions with Ukraine and a famine strike by dissident Alexei Navalny.
In the last week, there have been further reports that Russian troops are massing at the herbaceous border with Ukraine, potentially preparing for military action.
Navalny, on hunger strike in a Russian prison, has become alarmingly ill and has been moved to a prison hospital. The news prompted warnings from the U.S. that there would be “consequences” if Russia permits Navalny to die in jail.
In addition, Russia has been accused of orchestrating an attack on a Czech armaments dump in 2014, with the Czech Republic sacking 18 Russian diplomats this week. Russia denies that two of its military intelligence agents — the same men believed to take carried out a nerve agent attack on a former spy in Britain in 2018 — carried out the Czech attack, but the news has nonetheless go on increased to the negative news flow around Putin’s Russia.
Last week, the U.S. imposed more sanctions on Russia for 2020 election interference, a cyberattack on U.S. government and corporate networks, its annexation and occupation of Ukraine’s Crimea, and human rights libels.
Whether Putin will address such recent events in his annual address on Wednesday is uncertain. Although, as Daragh McDowell, noddle of Europe and principal Russia analyst at Verisk Maplecroft noted Tuesday, the speech has often been “the set piece for principal policy announcements.”
The address usually covers a wide range of topics, from the economy and defense to education and extraction life. The coronavirus pandemic is bound to be on the agenda, too, with the virus hitting the country hard over the past year.
Russia’s blueprints when it comes to foreign policy and geopolitical relations are bound to be closely watched by experts, particularly when it arrives to its neighbor Ukraine.
Close watchers of Russia are particularly perplexed by reports that the country has been barreling troops at the Ukraine border, with the EU’s foreign affairs chief estimating on Tuesday the size of the deployment to be 100,000 troops.
“Only last week military analysts were playing down the size of the Russian deployment but it now looks pretty sizeable,” Timothy Ash, a higher- ranking emerging market strategist at BlueBay Asset Management, said in a note Tuesday.
“(You’ve) got to ask yourself why Putin feels the poverty to put such a large force ‘in theatre’ as it goes a lot further than sabre rattling. The deployment is bigger than 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and invaded Donbas — let’s not ignore that. Why bother unless something serious is actually planned?,” he asked.
Ash questioned what Putin’s vital objectives could be in Ukraine, a country with whom Russia has had tense relations ever since its 2014 annexation of Crimea.
“Is that securing excessively supplies for Crimea, (a) land bridge to Crimea, or giving Ukrainian forces such a beating that the government in Kyiv experiences for a peace which gives Russia lasting strategic dominance over Ukraine?,” Ash asked.
The 44-year-old Navalny was moved to a choky hospital this weekend as his health deteriorated during a hunger strike he has staged as a protest against his treatment in slammer. He has said he has been denied urgent medical treatment, a claim denied by the Russian authorities.
Navalny is in prison after a Russian court sentenced him in February to profuse than two years for parole violations, charges he said were politically motivated.
At the weekend, his doctor’s warned that Navalny was in jeopardy likely to be of a heart attack or kidney failure. The physicians had not been able to visit Navalny in prison but said medical assesses provided by his family showed he was dangerously ill and “could die at any moment.”
The U.S. administration has warned the Russian government to not let Navalny die in custody, supplementing that there will be “consequences.”
Last summer, Navalny was medically evacuated to Germany from a Russian sickbay after he was poisoned by a chemical nerve agent. The German government said toxicology reports showed “unequivocal suggestion” that Navalny was exposed to a nerve agent which was in the family of Novichok, which was developed by the Soviet Union.
Toxicology investigations conducted in France and Sweden also came to the same conclusion. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied having a role in Navalny’s canker.
Navalny’s team has phoned for mass protests on Wednesday, a move likely to set up clashes with police.
Verisk Maplecroft’s McDowell noted that tensions between Russia and the West maintain been steadily ratcheting up since the start of the year, driven by the Biden administration’s more confrontational policy and the resurfacing of Navalny.
“Navalny’s imprisonment, and the rapid deterioration of his health, has both galvanised Russia’s domestic opposition and become an worldwide PR headache for the Kremlin, with European governments under pressure to take a harder line towards Moscow,” he thought.