Putin suspends key nuclear treaty in landmark speech

Putin suspends key nuclear treaty in landmark speech
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual address to the Federal Assembly in Moscow, Russia February 21, 2023. Credit: Sputnik/Sergei Karpukhin/Pool via REUTERS

In a landmark speech on the anniversary of Russia’s recognition and direct occupation of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, which immediately preceded its full-on invasion of Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin railed against the West in a speech that sees Russia suspend its participation in a key nuclear agreement with the US.

As he fulminated against the “moral degradation” of the West and denounced widespread “paedophilia”, “elites”, and a desire to “finish Russia once and for all”, Putin vowed to “carefully” continue the offensive in Ukraine and “liquidate the neo-Nazi regime in Kyiv”.

In a return to vehement anti-West rhetoric, Russia's leader claimed that it was defending the lives of Russian-speaking citizens in the Donbas and other Ukrainian regions. He spoke of the need to liberate these “hostages” from the current Ukrainian government.

Whilst the new waves of mobilisation or the closure of Russia’s borders which some experts had predicted were not announced, Putin claimed that it would be “impossible” to beat Russia on the battlefield and that it would engage in a new offensive.

Nuclear tensions

Crucially, Putin announced Russia’s move to suspend the Russo-American New Start treaty on nuclear disarmament, a thinly-veiled nuclear threat from a regime not shy of reminding opponents of its formidable nuclear arsenal.

First signed in 2010, the treaty is the last binding bilateral agreement of its kind between the new nations. The suspension of the deal, signed between former US President Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev, will end a limit on the number of strategic nuclear warheads that both sides can deploy, as well as mutual weapons inspections.

Russia has also summoned the American ambassador to Moscow, demanding NATO withdraw its “soldiers and equipment” from Ukraine. Putin accuses the US of turning its invasion of Ukraine from a “local conflict into a global one.”

In response to the speech, Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak described Putin as “confused” and told the Reuters news agency that Putin was living in a "different reality" beyond the realms of "justice and international law”.

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“Nobody is attacking Russia. There is a kind of absurdity in the notion that Russia was under some form of military threat from Ukraine or anyone else. This was a war of choice. Putin chose to fight it. He could have chosen not to. And he can choose even now to end it, to go home,” US spokesperson Jake Sullivan told reporters on Tuesday.

Later today, US President Joe Biden is set to be in Warsaw where he will meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda and hold his own talks ahead of the anniversary of Russia’s invasion. Biden recently promised new arms shipments to Ukraine and will discuss further means to coordinate military support for Kyiv in Warsaw.

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