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Putin blames war on West, suspends nuclear disarmament pact

February 21, 2023

In a major speech in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin claimed that the West was responsible for "fueling the Ukrainian conflict." He also said Moscow would suspend participation in the New START nuclear weapons treaty.

Russia s President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual address to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation
Russia s President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual address to the Federal Assembly of the Russian FederationImage: Sergei Karpukhin/TASS/IMAGO

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday vowed to press on with his war in Ukraine during a major speech to Russian lawmakers and military commanders.

The annual state of the nation address came just days before the one-year anniversary of Russia's invasion of its neighbor and on the ninth anniversary of the start of the war in Ukraine.

In his two-hour speech, the Russian leader chided the West and announced that Moscow was suspending its participation in the New START nuclear disarmament treaty. He said Russia must stand ready to resume nuclear weapons tests if Washington does so.

Later on Tuesday, Putin submitted a draft law on the suspension of Moscow's participation in the treaty to the Duma, the lower house of Russia's parliament, Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said.

Volodin said that the Duma would deliberate on the law on Wednesday and take an immediate decision. He said that the law would then be sent to the  upper house of parliament, the Federation Council.

Russia's last major nuclear disarmament treaty with the US had come into force in 2011. After its extension in 2021, it was due to expire in 2026. 

What did Putin say about the war?

Putin reiterated the Kremlin's lines on launching what Moscow describes as a "special military operation" in Ukraine, saying that Russia was fighting to "liberate" people and claiming that Ukrainians "are hostages of their [own] regime." 

He also promised to continue Moscow's offensive: "step by step, we will carefully and systematically solve the aims that face us."

Putin blamed the West for starting the conflict, saying Western countries, led by the US, were seeking "unlimited power" in world affairs.

Moscow's forces have struggled to gain the upper hand in the conflict since invading on February 24 last year. The war has killed thousands, displaced millions and reduced towns to rubble. 

"The responsibility for fueling the Ukrainian conflict, for its escalation, for the number of victims ... lies completely with Western elites," Putin said. 

"They want to inflict a 'strategic defeat' on us and try to get to our nuclear facilities at the same time," he said"

The West has long denied Putin's claims and consistently maintained the stance that Russia's war on Ukraine was "unprovoked."

Moscow "did everything possible, genuinely everything possible, in order to solve this problem [in Ukraine] by peaceful means," Putin said. "But a completely different scenario was being prepared behind our backs."

He criticized Western attempts toward peace since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, saying the Normandy format and the Minsk agreements "are not genuine." 

The Russian invasion of Ukraine: A year in pictures

Moscow to respect nuclear weapons caps —Foreign Ministry

Hours after Putin's address, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that Moscow would continue to respect caps on nuclear weapons set under the treaty.

It added that Russia would continue to exchange information about test launches of ballistic missiles.

The ministry said that Russia's's decision to suspend participation in the treaty could be reversed, and urgued Washington to de-escalate tensions.

During his speech, Putin insisted that Russia was not withdrawing from the pact, but suspending its participation.

'Russia is not withdrawing from New START Treaty': Russian President Putin

Meanwhile, United Nation spokesperson Stephane Dujarric urged the US and Russia to resume full implication of the New START treaty.

"A world without nuclear arms control is a far more dangerous, unstable one, with potentially catastrophic consequences," Dujarric said.

"Every effort should be taken to avoid this outcome, including an immediate return to dialogue."

Putin 'chose' to start war

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said: "It is Putin who started this imperial war of conquest. It is Putin who keeps escalating the war."

Stoltenberg also said he regretted Putin's decision to withdraw Moscow from the New START pact. "With today's decision on New START the whole arms control architecture has been dismantled."

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters that "nobody is attacking Russia," in response to Putin's claims that Moscow's war on Ukraine was merely defensive. 

"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," Sullivan said.     

"Russia stops fighting the war in Ukraine and goes home, the war ends. Ukraine stops fighting and the United States and the coalition stops helping them fight — then Ukraine disappears from the map," he added.

Sullivan spoke hours ahead of US President Joe Biden delivering his own speech in Warsaw.

Mykhailo Podolyak, a political adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, told Reuters news agency that Putin's remarks showed that he had lost touch with reality.

"He is in a completely different reality, where there is no opportunity to conduct a dialogue about justice and international law," Podolyak said.

Solomiia Bobrovska, a Ukrainian lawmaker, condemned Putin's remarks on the Ukrainian regime, saying that since 2014 "all presidents were elected officially and in a legitimate way according to the elections, which were recognized by the whole world and by the Russian Federation as well." 

'War-time propaganda'

Roman Goncharenko, an analyst for DW's Russian service, said, "Vladimir Putin is famous for mixing facts and fiction." 

Putin's message in his speech was that the West "started this war" and Russia is only using force to stop it, Goncharenko said, adding: "Which is, of course, a lie." 

Putin was seeking to mobilize Russians for "an anti-Western crusade," not only by blaming the West for starting the conflict but also by making allegations such as "pedophilia is normal in the West," Goncharenko added.

DW's chief international editor Richard Walker said Putin's speech was largely "war-time propaganda," saying claims about pedophilia being a norm in the West are "almost laughable." 

Walker said such messages were intended to make Russians see the West as a strategic, moral and cultural threat to their country. 

"[Putin] said that this [war] is about the very existence of the Russian state. And in the Russian nuclear code, it says that they would only use nuclear weapons if their state's very existence was threatened," Walker said.    

What else did Putin say?

Putin's address came at a time when Russia's economy is under significant pressure due to sanctions imposed by the EU and its allies, leading to rising prices and gloomy prospects within the nation.

"We have already begun and will continue to build up a large-scale program for the socioeconomic recovery and development of these new subjects of the Federation," Putin said in his address, referring to territory annexed from Ukraine.  

"We are talking about reviving enterprises and jobs in the ports of the Sea of Azov, which has again become an inland sea of Russia, and building new modern roads, as we did in Crimea." 

EU officials visit Kyiv

The Russian president urged the country's business elite who were "begging" for money in the West to instead invest at home. "Trying to run around with your hand outstretched, groveling, begging for money, is pointless," he said. 

"Launch new projects, make money, invest in Russia," he added. "This is how you will multiply your capital and earn people's recognition and gratitude for generations to come."

This is Putin's 18th such speech to the Federal Assembly, meant to outline the nation's condition and outlook. His last state of the nation address was in April 2021, before Russia invaded Ukraine.

He did not address the parliament in 2022, citing "dynamics of events." 

Tuesday's speech was largely expected to set the tone for Russia's presidential elections, scheduled to take place in just over a year. Constitutional changes mean Putin, 70, could remain in power until 2036. 

MSC ends with calls for fast Ukraine support

fb, mk/nm (Reuters, dpa, AP)