President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday sternly warned the West against encroaching further on Russia's security interests, saying Moscow's response will be "quick and tough" and make the culprits feel bitterly sorry for their action. The warning during Putin's annual state-of-the-nation address came amid a massive Russian military buildup near Ukraine, where cease-fire violations in the seven-year conflict between Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces have escalated in recent weeks. The United States and its allies have urged the Kremlin to pull the troops back. Highlights from Putin's speech, per the AP:
- "I hope that no one dares to cross the red line in respect to Russia, and we will determine where it is in each specific case," Putin said. "Those who organize any provocations threatening our core security interests will regret their deeds more than they regretted anything for a long time."
- The Kremlin has warned Ukraine against trying to use force to retake control of the rebel-held east, saying Russia could be forced to intervene to protect civilians in the region. "We really don’t want to burn the bridges," Putin said. "But if some mistake our good intentions for indifference or weakness and intend to burn or even blow up those bridges themselves, Russia’s response will be asymmetrical, quick and tough."
- In an emotional outburst, Putin chastised the West for acquiring a defiant stance toward Russia. "Some countries have developed a nasty habit of bullying Russia for any reason or without any reason at all. It has become a new sport," he said.
- In an apparent reference to the US allies, he compared them to Tabaqui, a cowardly golden jackal kowtowing to Shere Khan, the tiger in Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book. "They howl to please their lord," he said.
- In an apparent reference to the US and its allies, the Russian leader denounced those who impose "unlawful, politically motivated economic sanctions and crude attempts to enforce its will on others." He said Russia has shown restraint and often refrained from responding to "openly boorish" actions by others. (The Biden administration last week imposed new sanctions on Russia for interfering in the 2020 US presidential election and for involvement in the SolarWind hack of federal agencies—activities Moscow has denied. In terms of those sanctions, Biden says he told Putin it could have been worse.)