MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday suspended Moscow’s participation in a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Washington during a speech in which he accused the West of escalating the Ukraine conflict.
In his scathing state of the nation address to Russian lawmakers, Putin also vowed that Russia would keep fighting in Ukraine ahead of the first anniversary of the invasion.
Accusing Western powers of wanting “to be done with us once and for all,” he said Russia was “forced” to suspend the New START treaty but would not pull out of the agreement altogether.
The 2010 treaty is the last major US-Russia arms control pact still in force but it has frayed in recent years, with accusations from Washington that Moscow was not complying with it.
Putin was speaking a day after US President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to Kyiv in which he promised additional arms deliveries for Ukraine, and ahead of a speech by Biden in Warsaw.
Referring to the conflict in Ukraine, Putin said: “step by step, we will carefully and systematically solve the aims that face us.”
He said it was “impossible to defeat Russia on the battlefield.”
“The responsibility for fueling the Ukrainian conflict, for its escalation, for the number of victims… lies completely with Western elites,” Putin said, repeating his claim — overwhelmingly dismissed as baseless — that the West was supporting “neo-Nazi forces” in Ukraine.
Russia remains determined to fulfill all its tasks in Ukraine, Putin said.
His army has faced a long series of humiliating defeats over the past year, even after the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of reservists last September.
“To ensure the security of our country, to eliminate the threat that came from the neo-Nazi regime that emerged in Ukraine after the 2014 coup, it was decided to conduct a special military operation,” he said.
“Step by step, we will carefully and systematically solve the aims that face us.”
A top US official described as an “absurdity” Putin’s accusations that Russia had been threatened by the West as justification for sending troops into Ukraine.
“Nobody is attacking Russia. There’s a kind of absurdity in the notion that Russia was under some form of military threat from Ukraine or anyone else,” White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters in Warsaw.
Sanctions ‘will not succeed’
Speaking in front of the political elites and servicemen who fought in Ukraine, Putin also “thanked the entire Russian people for their courage and determination.”
He, however, did not detail his strategy to win on the ground in Ukraine, nor did he elaborate on Russian military losses — which the West and Ukraine say are huge.
Experts have pointed out that the Russian economy weathered Western sanctions over Moscow’s military intervention better than expected.
“They have not succeeded and will not succeed,” Putin said.
“We ensured the stability of the economic situation and protected our citizens,” Putin added, slamming Western attempts to “destabilize our society.”
Russian official data on Monday showed the economy contracted by 2.1 percent last year despite sanctions — far less than had been expected.
Putin predicted inflation would soon stabilize around its target level of 4%.
Referring to the Russian billionaires whose assets, foreign accounts and yachts have been seized, Putin said that “no one among ordinary people felt sorry for them.”
“Everyone must understand that the sources of well-being and the future should be only here, in their native country: Russia.”
“Invest in Russia,” he urged, “the state and society will support you.”
Traitors and pedophiles
Putin also indicated that Russian authorities could ramp up pressure on dissenters, saying traitors must be brought to justice.
“Those who have embarked on the path of betrayal of Russia must be held accountable under the law,” Putin said.
However, he added that authorities would not unleash a “witch hunt” against dissenters.
Since the beginning of the offensive, the Russian government has cracked down hard on what little remained of the opposition.
Criticism of Moscow’s offensive can lead to prison sentences of up to 15 years.
Putin, who frequently decries Western gender and sexual freedoms as an existential danger, also said pedophilia had become the norm in the West.
“Look at what they do to their own people: the destruction of families, of cultural and national identities and the perversion that is child abuse all the way up to pedophilia are advertised as the norm… and priests are forced to bless same-sex marriages,” Putin said.
Biden is due to deliver his own speech later Wednesday after talks with Polish President Andrzej Duda, who has been a key advocate for Ukraine within the EU and NATO.
From Warsaw’s historic Royal Castle, Biden will “make it clear that the United States will continue to stand with Ukraine… for as long as it takes,” according to National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, who spoke to reporters last week.
‘Messaging Mr. Putin’
He will also speak by telephone with the leaders of Britain, France and Italy, the White House has said. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is due in Washington on March 3.
“You’ll hear messages in the president’s speech that will certainly resonate with the American people, certainly will resonate with our allies and partners, without question resonate with the Polish people,” Kirby said of the Warsaw address.
“I would suspect that you’ll hear him messaging Mr. Putin as well, as well as the Russian people.”
At his meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday, Biden pledged “unwavering” US support and some $500 million in ammunition and artillery supplies.
The visit came ahead of the February 24 anniversary of when Putin gave the order for Russian troops to enter Ukraine.
“One year later, Kyiv stands. And Ukraine stands. Democracy stands,” Biden said at the Mariinsky Palace, the Ukrainian president’s official residence.
When the Kremlin launched the offensive in Ukraine, its so-called “special military operation” was planned to be a rapid conquest leading to capitulation and the installation of a pro-Russian regime.
“Putin thought Ukraine was weak and the West was divided,” Biden said Monday. “He thought he could outlast us.”
“He’s just been plain wrong,” he added.
‘Getting out of control’
On Tuesday, China said it was “deeply concerned” about the conflict, which it said was “intensifying and even getting out of control.”
Foreign Minister Qin Gang said Beijing would “urge the countries concerned to stop adding fuel to the fire as soon as possible, to stop shifting the blame to China,” following US claims that Beijing may be considering sending arms to Moscow.
China has sought to position itself as a neutral party, while maintaining close ties with its strategic ally Russia.
China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, is due in Moscow on Tuesday for talks, in his final stop of a European tour.
The Kremlin has said Wang may meet Putin during his visit, according to the state TASS news agency.
According to the latest estimates from Norway, the conflict has wounded or killed 180,000 Russian soldiers and 100,000 Ukrainian troops.
Other Western sources estimate the conflict has caused 150,000 casualties on each side.