Alexei Navalny, the equivalent of Labour’s Keir Starmer, is currently in prison on hunger strike over inadequate medical treatment after recovering from an attempt to murder him using Novichok, the substance used in the Salisbury poisonings, and a clear sign of Kremlin involvement.
For those hoping that Putin’s dictatorial habits will have little effect on life in the wider world, other than the occasional assassination attempt, the words of his speech should serve as a wake-up call.
With more than 100,000 troops massed on the Ukrainian border, Putin decided to issue threats to the West.
“Those who organise any provocations threatening the core security interests of Russia will feel sorry for their deeds as never before,” he said. “We really don't want to burn the bridges. But if some mistake our good intentions for indifference or weakness and intend to burn or even blow up those bridges themselves, Russia's response will be asymmetrical, quick and tough."
Given everything we have to contend with – the Covid pandemic, climate change, Brexit’s fallout, and the Scottish independence debate – it is tempting to ignore Putin’s sabre-rattling, to convince ourselves that such tough talk is intended only for a domestic audience.
This could be true, but failing to stand up to bullies generally emboldens them and Putin has shown he is willing to use serious military force, both in Ukraine and in Syria, where Russian troops are still fighting alongside the army of another brutal tyrant, Bashar Assad.
In the West, there are people across the political spectrum who recognise the danger. The left-wing US senator Bernie Sanders has warned that Navalny “is being murdered in front of the world by Vladimir Putin”. In the UK, Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski has urged the UK to join the US in imposing sanctions on companies involved in building the NordStream2 pipeline as a way to “stop Russian aggression against Ukraine”.
Whatever strategy is used – and great care will be needed – one thing is clear: if we are to face Putin down and prevent him from taking actions that further threaten peace in the world, democratic nations must present a united front.