Russian President Putin is giving his annual state of the state address, amid heightened tension with the West over Ukraine and jailed Putin critic Alexei Navalny.
He has spent quite half-hour that concentrates on Russia’s battle with Covid-19, praising the social solidarity of the many people within the pandemic.
But within the past, Mr. Putin has also used the occasion to send signals abroad.
Russia has moved quite 100,000 troops on the brink of Ukraine, reports say.
A large neighborhood of that force is in Crimea, the peninsula which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. A senior Ukrainian officer, Gen Serhiy Nayev, estimated the whole force to be 103,200 last week.
Russia backs the separatists holding a swathe of eastern Ukraine, and its maneuvers have fuelled fears of the latest Russian military intervention.
Mr. Putin’s speech comes as anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, an arch-critic of the president, is being treated at a jail hospital in Vladimir, about 180km (112 miles) east of Moscow. he’s on a quick and his allies say his life is in peril.
Mr. Putin began speaking at Moscow’s Manezh exhibition area at 12:00 (09:00 GMT), addressing both chambers of the Russian parliament. RIA news agency says all those attending have had to undergo three tests for Covid-19 in recent days.
Mr. Putin, who coughed several times during his speech, said “vaccination is critical. There is no other way” to curb the pandemic.
“In the autumn we might wish to possess achieved collective immunity,” he said.
He described Russia’s low birthrate as “extreme” and noted that Covid was making matters worse. “We must maintain tight control to stop the virus from spreading.”
During the pandemic, Mr. Putin has largely remained at a residence just outside Moscow, so this is often a rare appearance publicly.
Russian police have launched raids on supporters of Navalny to disrupt their plans for nationwide protests afterward Wednesday.
Two key Navalny aides who are already under confinement – lawyer Lyubov Sobol and his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh – were detained by police in Moscow. Dozens of other Navalny supporters were detained across Russia.
The authorities say any pro-Navalny mass protests are getting to be illegal. Police are expected to dam off streets around Manezh Square in central Moscow, where his supporters plan to rally at 19:00.
Last week the US government accused the Kremlin of “malign activity” and expelled 10 Russian diplomats. Russia responded tit-for-tat. Similar hostile exchanges of diplomats happened between Russia and both the Czech Republic and Poland.