Putin says he has ‘firmly defended’ his nation’s interests’ and praises Russia’s strength in new year message hours after phone call with Biden

  • Vladimir Putin said Moscow ‘firmly’ defended its interests during a TV address
  • Russian President also praised Russia’s strength in face of ‘colossal challenges’
  • The televised address was broadcast hours after Putin phone call with Joe Biden

President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow ‘firmly’ defended its interests in 2021 – a year marked by an unprecedented crackdown on the opposition and increased tensions with the West – in a New Year’s address.

The broadcast aired at midnight in the Far Eastern Kamchatka peninsula and was reported by Russian agencies.

In the speech, Putin said: ‘We firmly and consistently defended our national interests, the security of the country and (of) citizens.’

He added that the country’s 146 million has faced ‘colossal challenges but has learned to live in those harsh conditions and solve difficult tasks thanks to our solidarity.’ 

Russian President Vladimir Putin (pictured) said his government had ‘firmly’ defended the country’s interests in the face of ‘colossal challenges’

This year Russia implemented a major crackdown on organisations and people critical of Putin – starting with the jailing of his top critic Alexei Navalny in February.

Tensions between Russia and the West have also reached new highs over Ukraine.

Putin discussed the soaring tensions in a phone call with US President Joe Biden on Thursday.

Biden reaffirmed the U.S. threat of new sanctions against Russia in case of an escalation or invasion, to which Putin responded with a warning of his own that such a U.S. move could lead to a complete rupture of ties between the nations. 

The Kremlin chief, in power since 1999, also expressed support to Russians who lost relatives to Covid. His country is among the hardest-hit in the world by the pandemic.

‘The insidious disease has claimed tens of thousands of lives,’ he said.

‘I want to express my sincere support to everyone who has lost relatives, loved-ones, friends,’ he added.

Russia’s state statistics agency said Thursday that more than 71,000 people died of coronavirus in the country in November, setting a new monthly fatality record since the pandemic began.

The country has also seen a drop in contagion in recent weeks with new daily infections currently just above 20,000 after peaking at more than 40,000 in early November. The government so far has reported only about 100 infections with the new omicron variant, but it is bracing up for a new wave of contagion after the holidays. 

Just 51% of Russians have been fully vaccinated, and the government has sought to speed up the uptake, claiming that Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine and other domestically designed shots offer a good protection from the omicron variant.

Authorities across Russia have restricted access to museums, theaters and concerts allowing only those who have been vaccinated or tested negative, but restaurants, clubs and cinemas have remained accessible for all in most regions. 

Pictured: A Ukrainian soldier is seen smoking at the line of separation from the pro-Russian rebels in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, on December 30, 2021

Moscow and other big cities planned to mark the New Year with fireworks and shopping malls were brimming with customers on a holiday buying spree.

Putin also told Russians that Moscow’s ‘main goal’ for the future is to ‘improve the welfare and quality of life for people.’

Russia celebrates New Year over its 11 time zones, starting in Kamchatka and ending in the western Kaliningrad exclave.

Russian authorities have tightened controls over the domestic political scene this year, with Putin’s main political foe Alexei Navalny handed a 2 1/2 year prison sentence, his organizations outlawed as ‘extremist’ and scores of media outlets, civil society groups and activists branded ‘foreign agents,’ a pejorative label implying additional government scrutiny.

Earlier this week, Russia’s court capped a year of crackdown by shutting the country’s oldest and most prominent human rights group in a move that drew an international outrage.

Putin, 69, who has been in power for more than two decades – longer than any other Kremlin leader since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin – is entitled to seek two more six-year terms and remain in power until 2036. He has said he would decide later whether to run again in 2024.       

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