MOSCOW: Vladimir Putin delivers a state of the nation address on Wednesday as Russia deals with a crisis in ties with the West and faces calls for mass protests in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
The longtime Russian leader’s annual speech to lawmakers and regional governors sets the political agenda and last year saw Putin lay out a plan that eventually gave him the power to stay in office until 2036.
This year’s address comes with Moscow locked in diplomatic disputes with the United States and Europe over a Russian troop build-up on Ukraine’s borders and a series of espionage scandals.
With parliamentary elections due in September, Putin will be looking to shore up his public support and is likely to remain defiant with the West, as well as announcing a series of measures to boost Russia’s pandemic-hit economy.
But the speech threatens to be overshadowed by country-wide demonstrations called by Navalny’s supporters, who fear the life of Putin’s best-known critic is in grave danger.
Navalny’s team has called for protests from 7:00 pm (0400 GMT) in cities across Russia to support the anti-corruption campaigner, who launched a hunger strike three weeks ago to protest his lack of medical treatment in prison.
Police have issued warnings against joining Wednesday’s rallies, saying they are illegal gatherings. They arrested thousands during anti-government demonstrations earlier this year.
– Fears for Navalny’s life – Navalny was detained after he returned to Russia in January after months recovering in Germany from a near-fatal poisoning he blames on the Kremlin — an accusation the leadership roundly rejects.
He was sentenced to two-and-a-half years on old fraud charges his supporters say were politically motivated and has been serving time in a penal colony about 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of Moscow.
His team this weekend announced the protests to coincide with Putin’s speech, after his doctors said Navalny was suffering from a range of ailments in prison and could die at “any minute”.
The European Union and the United States have imposed sanctions on Russia over Navalny’s poisoning, and on Monday threatened Moscow with further


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