Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Before meeting with Biden, Putin clearly outlined Russia’s area of vital interest and it seems that the West is not going to deny it


On April 21, 2021, the President of the Russian Federation made an annual address to the Federal Assembly. The event took place against the backdrop of Russian troops buildup near the Ukrainian borders, therefore it attracted special attention both in Ukraine and in Western countries. Contrary to expectations, Vladimir Putin devoted most of his speech to domestic politics and the socio-economic aspects of the state's development. In particular, programs were announced aimed at financial support of a number of segments of the population, namely: low-income families, single pregnant women, small and medium-sized businesses, students, etc. Particular attention was paid to support of subsidized subjects of the Russian Federation. Putin promised to restructure part of commercial loans to the regions by 2029 and launch a program of state infrastructure loans from next year. The intentions were determined to comprehensively develop the infrastructure of the regions and tourism. The money for social and regional projects is planned to be partially taken from the National Welfare Fund, which is growing along with oil prices, as well as from corporate income.[1] Obviously, the accents that Putin has emphasized are intended to mobilize the electorate ahead of the State Duma elections to be held this fall. At present, foreign policy issues are not seen by the Kremlin as an instrument providing greater electoral support, so little part of speech was devoted to them.

Putin's rhetoric on Western states was traditionally critical, he stressed that Russia has its own interests and the state will defend its position. The President of the Russian Federation said that if «someone» wants to burn the bridges, Russia's response will be «asymmetric, swift and tough», and the organizers of any provocations that threaten the fundamental interests of Russian security will regret it. At the same time, Putin outlined the red lines that no one can cross and where they are located Russia, according to him, will decide for itself in each case. Obviously, in this way, Putin is warning the West about the inadmissibility of interference into the affairs of countries that the Kremlin considers to be its own sphere of influence.

During his speech, Putin accused Western countries of preparing a coup d'etat in Belarus and of the allegedly planned blockade of Minsk. It is worth noting that earlier, in April, a recording was published in Belarus in which a group of people, sitting in a crowded Minsk restaurant, were loudly discussing the plan to overthrow Lukashenko. Moreover, a documentary film was even made in Belarus about the allegedly impending assassination attempt on the president, prepared by the opposition with the support of the CIA. In conditions of pressure on Lukashenko from the West, the regime of the Belarusian dictator is increasingly dependent on Putin. During the April meeting of the Russian President with Lukashenko, the issue of integration of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus within the framework of the union state was again discussed.

Upon his return to Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko announced the issuance of an unconstitutional decree providing for the transfer of presidential powers to the Security Council of Belarus in the event of an emergency with the president. In addition, a meeting was held with the Ukrainian deputy from the presidential party «Servant of the People» Olexander Shevchenko, contrary to the official position of the Ukrainian government on the situation in Belarus, he flew to Minsk for a meeting. Thus, Aleksandr Lukashenko is trying in any way to give legitimacy to his regime and to stay in power no matter what. According to former Ukrainian Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko, Lukashenko «does not want to become another Gauleiter in Belarus and lower his country to the level of another federal district». «I think he will desperately oppose it. How successful he will be is a question. But at least for now, I don't think there will be a real and quick Anschluss», Ohryzko said. «I don't think there will be a direct Anschluss while he is in power. If Moscow manages to put its puppet on the small throne in Minsk after him, [...] the situation may accelerate, and then Belarus will certainly lose its independence faster», the former Ukrainian Foreign Minister explained. He believes that for Ukraine, such a development as the annexation of Belarus by Russia will become a problem, as a military threat will appear from the northern borders.

    After mentioning the red lines, Putin announced the development of the latest strategic weapons (the presence of the «Avangard» hypersonic intercontinental complexes on alert, the work on the «Burevestnik» cruise missile, the «Poseidon» unmanned underwater vehicle with nuclear propultion systems and nuclear charges), the development of a missile potential, in particular hypersonic weapons, in the view of the Russian leadership, should prompt the United States to negotiate to ensure global stability.[2] 

In addition, one of the issues that Putin briefly mentioned was the intention to launch the construction of the Northern Latitude Railway, which according to Putin, would provide an impetus for the development of Arctic resources. In recent years, the Arctic region has become increasingly environmentally, economically and geopolitically important. Therefore, the race for resources and fierce competition between the Arctic states and their allies is already unfolding. The project can not only double the existing transport infrastructure capacity of the region and attract a wide range of minerals to the economy, but would also ensure a stable Russian presence in the western and central sectors of the Arctic. Unlike the North American countries, whose Arctic regions are poorly populated, Russia has a powerful demographic potential in the region. For example, Murmansk, the world's largest city located in the Arctic Circle, has a population of about 300,000. Now the Russian Federation continues to build up its military presence in the region. In response, the United States and Norway signed the Supplementary Defense Cooperation Agreement on April 16. While President Vladimir Putin has warned the West against further encroaching on Russia's security interests, saying Moscow's response will be «swift and tough», US and NATO ships, submarines and aircraft will soon enter several new ports and airfields in the Norwegian Arctic - right on the doorstep of Russia.[3] Since the Arctic region is of strategic importance to the United States, Joe Biden demonstrates a determination to defend the interests of the state together with NATO allies, despite the «red lines» that Putin has outlined. However, the United States has not yet demonstrated such resolve in the Black Sea region, where Russian threats forced the USA to return its destroyers bounding for the Black Sea.

At the same time, Vladimir Putin will seek a dialogue with Joseph Biden. This is evidenced by the emphasis during the speech on Russia's desire to fight climate change, which is one of the priorities of the new President of the United States. Therefore, this can be viewed as a demonstration of the readiness of the Russian leadership to make concessions on issues important for the US leader in exchange for taking into account Russian interests in other spheres. In general, Putin's address to the domestic audience was aimed at mobilizing the electorate in the election, while the foreign policy part warned Western countries about the inadmissibility of interfering in Russia's core security interests, particularly in Ukraine and Belarus.