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Putin says Russia will stop participating in its last nuclear treaty with the U.S.

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual state of the nation address at the Gostiny Dvor conference centre in Moscow on February 21, 2023.
Dmitry Astakhov
/
SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual state of the nation address at the Gostiny Dvor conference centre in Moscow on February 21, 2023.

Updated February 21, 2023 at 7:41 AM ET

MOSCOW – Speaking to a joint session of the Russian parliament and Kremlin officials, Russian President Vladimir Putin presented the war in Ukraine as an existential struggle against the West, while announcing he was suspending Russia's participation in the last remaining arms control treaty with the U.S.

"They are the ones who started this war, and we are using our forces to put a stop to it," said Putin, referring to the conflict in Ukraine.

Putin delivered his remarks days ahead of the one-year anniversary of the Kremlin's full-scale invasion of its neighbor. The assembled audience included uniformed soldiers the Kremlin said had come directly from the frontlines of Moscow's "special military operation" in Ukraine.

Putin acknowledged Russia's significant losses in the war and called on those present to stand for a moment of silence in their memory. The Russian leader also promised a range of social support packages for families of the fallen.

Much of the speech also addressed economic issues – with Putin claiming Western sanctions had failed.

"They haven't achieved anything, and they won't," said Putin, who noted that Western economists had forecast a collapse of Russia's economy.

Missing from Putin's address was any discussion of Russia's significant setbacks on the battlefield and its evident failure in the early days of the war to occupy Kyiv and remove Ukraine's democratically elected government.

Putin also did not indicate how the fighting might end and did not specify Russia's ultimate goals, beyond protecting the Russian-speaking population in eastern Ukraine from the "genocide" being perpetrated by the Ukrainian government.

Putin suspends participation in arms control treaty

Putin also said that he was suspending Russia's participation in a critical arms control treaty, New START, with the U.S., though he stressed that Russia is not withdrawing from the treaty.

"I am forced to announce today that Russia is suspending its participation in the strategic offensive arms treaty," he said.

Signed in 2010, New Start came into force in 2011, and was extended till 2026. It caps the number of strategic nuclear warheads that Russia and the U.S. can deploy. The two countries have the vast majority of all deployable warheads.

Regular inspections under the agreement, to make sure neither side is cheating, were put on hold in March 2020 during the pandemic. Russia postponed talks to restart those inspections, as relations between Moscow and Washington continued to deteriorate over Ukraine.

In the speech, Putin made clear the two issues were directly linked.

"The U.S. and NATO openly say their goal is to see Russia's strategic defeat. And then, as if nothing happened, they say they're prepared to visit our military bases, including our newest," said the Russian leader.

Putin also said he'd instructed his military and civilian atomic energy agency to be prepared to test additional nuclear weapons – should the U.S. carry out new tests first.

"No one should have dangerous illusions that global parity can be destroyed," said the Russian leader.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken described Russia's decision as "deeply unfortunate and irresponsible." The U.S. has previously accused Russia of violating the last remaining nuclear arms treaty between the two countries.

Putin's remarks come just hours before President Biden speaks

Putin's remarks were delivered just hours before President Biden was scheduled to make his own remarks, from Poland, on the anniversary of the war.

Biden's address follows his surprise visit to Ukraine's capital Kyiv Monday — a move seen in Moscow as both provocative and proof that, in Ukraine, Russia is fundamentally fighting a proxy war with the United States.

Putin presented a now-familiar list of grievances against the West, including what he described as its moral and spiritual collapse whose values, he said, threaten the children of Russia. The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarch Kirill, was seated front-row center in the hall.

The Russian leader again equated Ukraine's "neo Nazi" government with Nazi Germany, and said Russia was defending itself just as the Soviet Union defended its territory during World War II.

He concluded his one-hour forty-five minute address with words that evoked a Soviet wartime slogan: "We are in the right."

Speech kicks off series of events

Putin's speech in effect made good on an overdue commitment: the Kremlin repeatedly delayed and then ultimately canceled last year's address amid a trickle of bad news from the battlefield in Ukraine.

Today's address also kickstarts a series of connected and choreographed events: Russian lawmakers gather for an extraordinary session of both chambers of parliament Wednesday, when Putin will also address a mass rally at Moscow's largest stadium.

Despite the long wait, the choice of Putin's address today also came loaded with calendar symbolism.

It was precisely a year ago that the Russian leader called for the formal recognition of two pro-Russian separatist republics in eastern Ukraine — pronouncing international diplomatic efforts to preserve Ukraine's territorial integrity and find a diplomatic solution to a simmering conflict in the Donbas "futile."

Putin then assembled his National Security Council for a televised session to discuss the independence issue — now famous for the image of the Russian leader holding court across a vast hallway to consult with, in theory, his closest advisors.

Within days, Putin sent Russian troops ostensibly to defend Moscow's new allies under a quickly signed security agreement.

The invasion of Ukraine had begun.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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