In his first formal speech to the nation since invading Ukraine nearly a year ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday he would suspend Russia’s participation in new START nuclear arms reduction talks after the current treaty with the United States expires in three years, and he will no longer comply with the verification regime.
“One circumstance should be clear to everyone — the more long-range Western systems will come to Ukraine, the further we will be forced to push the threat away from our borders,” Putin said, drawing an ominous parallel between the step back on nuclear cooperation and NATO support for Ukraine.
Putin also said he is putting ground-based strategic nuclear systems on combat duty and taunted “is the West going to stick their noses into that too?”
The Russian leader’s remarks come one day after U.S. President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, where he walked through public squares with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky. Putin’s speech precedes the one-year anniversary of his order to invade Ukraine by just a couple days.
“The Ukrainian people have become hostages of the Kyiv regime and its Western masters,” Putin said, in an appeal to a traditional Slavic martyr-mentality. His government continues to try and frame the war as one of liberation, despite the fact that Ukrainians appear united in their national defense.
In his speech, Putin referred to Ukraine as part of Russia’s “historic lands.”
Last fall, Putin addressed the country about the need for a partial mobilization in support of his war effort, but today’s speech is his first formal address to the nation in a context parallel to America’s State of the Union Address. He acknowledged the difficulties ordinary Russians are currently facing, but framed these as part of an existential struggle with the West.
Speaking in Kyiv Monday, Biden said “freedom is priceless and it’s worth fighting for as long as it takes.”