MOSCOW — He warned ominously of “red lines” in Russia’s security that, if crossed, would bring a powerful “asymmetric” response. He reminded Western leaders once again of the fearsomeness of his country’s modernized nuclear arsenal. And he boasted of Russia’s moral superiority over the West.
Yet even as President Vladimir V. Putin lashed out at foreign enemies real or perceived in a state-of-the-nation speech on Wednesday, tens of thousands of Russians defied a heavy police presence to pour into the streets to challenge his rule. In Moscow, some gathered across the street from the Kremlin to chant, “Go Away!”
It was a snapshot of Russia in the third decade of Mr. Putin’s rule: a leader facing an increasingly angry and desperate opposition but firmly in power with his country’s vast resources and huge security apparatus at his disposal.
an enormous troop buildup on Russia’s border with Ukraine and has gone toe to toe with President Biden, who issued a new round of sanctions last week, undeterred by Mr. Putin’s saber rattling in Ukraine.
Mr. Putin portrayed Russia as harried by Western nations for years with hypocritical criticism and sanctions. Punishing Russia, he said, has become a “new sport” in the West, and he was running thin on patience.
While he pledged on Wednesday that he still wanted “good relations with all participants of international society,” he said that if Russia is forced to defend its interests from any security threats its response would be “fast and tough.”
the prison treatment of the prominent opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny seemed to be mushrooming into something more.
Thousands were arrested at those protests this winter, which came after Mr. Navalny’s return to Russia from Germany, where he had been treated for a poisoning with a chemical weapon.
Riot police officers were out in force on Wednesday. While it appeared that they sought to avoid scenes of brutality that could cast a shadow over Mr. Putin’s speech, the police did detain nearly 1,500 demonstrators nationwide.
Protesters stood on the sidewalks across the street from the exhibition hall next to the Kremlin where Mr. Putin had spoken a few hours earlier. They chanted “Go away!” — referring to Mr. Putin; and “Release him!” — referring to Mr. Navalny.
“I didn’t come out concretely because of Aleksei Navalny, I came out more for myself,” said Svetlana Kosatkina, a 64-year-old real estate agent. “I can’t stand this whole situation of lawlessness and just total humiliation.”
a hunger strike and said by his lawyer to be near death, Mr. Navalny this week wrote in a letter to his allies that he had grown so thin he resembled a “skeleton walking, swaying in his cell.”
Police detained dozens of opposition activists earlier on Wednesday, including Mr. Navalny’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, and a top lieutenant in his political organization, Lyubov Sobol. To curb turnout at protests, universities compelled students to sit for unscheduled exams, TV Rain, an independent news station, reported on Tuesday.
Mr. Putin’s speech was closely watched for hints of his intentions in Ukraine, after massing the largest military force on the border since the outset of Kyiv’s war with Russian-backed separatists seven years ago.
highest per capita in the world.
“Solar Winds” hacking of government agencies and corporations, various disinformation efforts and earlier military interventions in Ukraine.
Mr. Putin’s allies had also erupted in fury when President Biden in an interview last month agreed with a characterization of Mr. Putin as a “killer.” In Wednesday’s speech, Mr. Putin lingered on a grievance that has not gained much traction outside Russian state news media: an accusation that the C.I.A. had been plotting an assassination of its own, targeting President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, the leader of Belarus, a Russian ally.
Over the weekend, Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service, arrested two men who it said had coordinated with American and Polish intelligence agencies to plot the murder of Mr. Lukashenko. This, Mr. Putin said, “crossed all the boundaries.”
In Mr. Putin’s telling, Russia, far from pursuing a militaristic policy, has been the victim of a Western scheme to contain and hobble the country. “They attack Russia here and there without any reason,” Mr. Putin said. He cited Rudyard Kipling’s novel “Jungle Book” with a comparison of the United States to Shere Khan, a villainous tiger, nipping at Russia.
And Mr. Putin lingered on descriptions of Russia’s modernized arsenal of atomic weapons. These include a hypersonic cruise missile, called the Dagger, and a nuclear torpedo, called the Poseidon. The torpedo, Russian officials have said, is designed to set off a radioactive tsunami.
The foreign policy message was a stark warning, said Andrei A. Klimov, deputy chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Russian Senate.
“We aren’t joking any longer,” Mr. Klimov said. ““We won’t every day tell our opponents they will be punished. But when it comes, they will understand.”
Anton Troianovski contributed reporting from Kyiv, Ukraine and Ivan Nechepurenko from Moscow.
MASLOVKA, Russia — Deep in a pine forest in southern Russia, military trucks, their silhouettes blurred by camouflage netting, appear through the trees. Soldiers in four-wheel-drive vehicles creep along rutted dirt roads. And outside a newly pitched tent camp, sentries, Kalashnikovs slung over their shoulders, pace back and forth.
Over the past month or so, Russia has deployed what analysts are calling the largest military buildup along the border with Ukraine since the outset of Kyiv’s war with Russian-backed separatists seven years ago.
It is far from a clandestine operation: During a trip to southern Russia by a New York Times journalist, evidence of the buildup was everywhere to be seen.
The mobilization is setting off alarms in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, European capitals and Washington, and is increasingly seen as an early foreign policy test for the Biden administration, which just hit Moscow with a new round of sanctions. Russia responded almost immediately, announcing on Friday that it would expel 10 U.S. diplomats.
“Solar Winds” hacking of government agencies and corporations, various disinformation efforts and the annexation of Crimea.
told European lawmakers on Wednesday that Russia is now garrisoning about 110,000 soldiers near the Ukrainian border. In Washington, the director of the C.I.A. told Congress that it remains unclear whether the buildup is a show of force or preparation for something more ominous.
Even if the goal of the buildup remains unclear, military analysts say it was most certainly meant to be seen. A show of force is hardly a good show if nobody watches.
“They are deploying in a very visible way,” said Michael Kofman, a senior researcher at CNA, a think tank based in Arlington, Va., who has been monitoring the military activity. “They are doing it overtly, so we can see it. It is intentional.”
foreign reporters have been showing up daily to watch the buzz of activity.
Conflict Intelligence Team, a group of independent Russian military analysts.
Gigantic military trucks are parked within sight of the roads, which have, strangely, remained open to public traffic.
news release to announce the redeployment of the naval landing craft closer to Ukraine, in case anybody was curious. The vessels sailed along rivers and canals connecting the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea. The ministry posted pictures.
forces for a possible incursion.
But Mr. Burns said U.S. officials were still trying to determine if the Kremlin was preparing for military action or merely sending a signal.