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Putin's face-offs with the world

Putin delivered his annual address to the Federal Assembly [Getty]

Date of publication: 21 April, 2021

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President Putin addressed the Federal Assembly to discuss a number of different topics.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin's state of the union address Wednesday came at a time when tensions with the West are at an all-time high, rocked by diplomatic expulsions and spy scandals. Here are some key flashpoints:

Navalny

Putin delivered his key annual speech just hours before country-wide demonstrations called by supporters of Alexei , who fear the life of Putin's best-known critic is in grave danger as he wages a hunger strike in jail.

The affair has also sparked international concern, with the European Union and the United States imposing sanctions on Russia over Navalny's poisoning, and on Monday threatening Moscow with further penalties in the event of his death.

Navalny had been detained after he returned to Russia in January following months recovering in Germany from a near-fatal nerve agent poisoning he blames on the Kremlin -- an accusation the leadership roundly rejects.

Ukraine troop build-up

Moscow is locked in a dispute with Washington and Europe over a spike in tensions in eastern Ukraine. 

Following clashes between Ukrainian forces and Moscow-backed separatists in recent weeks, Russia has built up troops along its border with Ukraine, raising fears of a major escalation in the long-running conflict.

The military presence on the border with Ukraine -- where Kiev's forces have been battling pro-Russia separatists since 2014 -- has sparked widespread alarm and warnings from NATO.

On Monday the US State Department described the plan as an "unprovoked escalation in Moscow's ongoing campaign to undermine and destabilise Ukraine". 

US relations

In March relations between Moscow and Washington sank to a new low after US President Joe Biden agreed with a description of the Russian president as a "killer," leading Putin to say, "it takes one to know one."

This month Washington hit Moscow with new sanctions and expelled 10 Russian diplomats in retaliation for what it says is interference by the Kremlin in US elections, a massive cyber attack and other hostile activity.

Moscow retaliated by blacklisting a number of current and former senior US government security officials.

Espionage scandals

Ties with the West have also been rocked by series of spy scandals and a number of European countries have accused Moscow of increasingly aggressive espionage tactics and expelled Russian diplomats.

Previous scandals such as the 2018 poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with a nerve agent in England sparked a wave of expulsions between London and its Western allies and Moscow.

Russia denied involvement but some 300 diplomats were sent home while the US imposed economic sanctions.

Read more: Exclusive: How Russia swooped Syria's hydrocarbon share in the Eastern Mediterranean

In March this year, Bulgaria expelled two Russian diplomats after six people were arrested in the country, including several defence ministry officials, on suspicion of spying for Russia. Russia later expelled two Bulgarians in a tit-for-tat move.

And in recent days Russia's tensions have soared with the Czech Republic as Prague expelled 18 Russian diplomats who were accused by local authorities of espionage.

Russia responded by announcing 20 employees of the Czech embassy in Moscow "persona non grata”.

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