Vladimir Putin has said Russia will suspend its remaining nuclear weapons treaty with the US, a move western officials said spelt the end of the post-cold war arms control regime.
In a state-of-the-nation address ahead of the anniversary of his invasion of Ukraine, the Russian president said Moscow would freeze its participation in the New Start agreement with Washington that limits the number of the two countries’ deployed strategic nuclear weapons.
“Our relations have degraded and that’s completely and utterly the US’s fault,” Putin said, in his long-delayed speech to Russia’s political elite on Tuesday, which came hours before US president Joe Biden offered a sharply different assessment in remarks in Warsaw.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken said the Russian leader’s decision to suspend participation in the arms control deal was “deeply unfortunate and irresponsible”, while other western officials were more outspoken about its long-term consequences.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s chief diplomat, said Putin was “demolishing the security system that was built after the end of the cold war”. Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said “the whole arms control architecture has been dismantled”, adding: “More nuclear weapons and less arms control makes the world more dangerous.”
The US had said in January that Russia was failing to comply with the 2010 treaty after a breakdown in talks on resuming nuclear weapons inspections, halted during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
But Russia’s suspension of the treaty means it will share less information with the US about its nuclear arsenal, though Russia’s foreign ministry later said some notifications would continue.
Russia has said talks on the treaty, which is due to expire in 2026, are unlikely to resume unless the west agrees to hold comprehensive negotiations on Ukraine without Kyiv’s participation, which the US has said is unacceptable.
Putin also hinted at resuming nuclear tests, though he claimed Russia would only do so in response to US actions.
“If the US conducts tests, then so will we. Nobody should have any illusions that global strategic parity can be destroyed,” the Russian president said. But he steered clear of repeating earlier veiled threats to use nuclear weapons against the west or Ukraine to defend Russia.
Putin’s speech was intended to demonstrate Moscow’s resolve, despite the failure of its initial blitzkrieg plan in Ukraine and the devastating losses Russia has suffered. “This is about the very existence of our country,” Putin said. Referring to the west he added: “They’re the ones who started the war. We are using force to stop it.”
In Biden’s own set-piece speech, delivered against the backdrop of Warsaw’s Royal Castle a day after he made a surprise visit to Kyiv, the US president countered Putin’s claim that western belligerence caused the war. “The west does not seek to attack Russia, as Putin said today . . . every day the war continues is his choice,” Biden said.
Moscow barred foreigners from attending Putin’s speech, instead inviting military veterans and pro-Kremlin youth activists to sit alongside Russia’s political elite.
“The longer-range the western systems supplied to Ukraine are, the further we will be forced to push the threat away from our borders,” Putin said, in a reference to growing supplies of advanced weaponry to Kyiv.
The Kremlin had postponed the address, Putin’s first in nearly two years, and cancelled his annual end-of-year press conference after his attempted annexation of four Ukrainian provinces partly under Russia’s control backfired disastrously last year.
In an apparent acknowledgment of his country’s huge casualties, which the UK says could have reached 200,000, Putin said Russia would set up a state foundation to support war veterans and their families. Western estimates show that the Ukrainian side has suffered roughly half the Russian casualties.
Putin maintained that Russia’s economy, which contracted by just 2.1 per cent this year despite western attempts to cut it off from global markets, had weathered the worst of sanctions.
He repeated a previous call, first made almost a decade ago, to “de-offshorise” Russia’s business elite by forcing them to register their foreign assets in Russian jurisdictions.
“No ordinary citizens felt sorry for those who lost their foreign assets and invested in yachts and palaces,” Putin said.
Many of Russia’s top officials and state company executives at the speech privately oppose the war, but have stayed in their posts and made their peace with it rather than speak out against Putin.
Putin insisted that Russia’s people were united in support of the war. He quoted the early 20th century Tsarist official Pyotr Stolypin’s invocation of “Russia’s one historical, higher right — the right to be strong”.
This post is originally appeared on FT