WASHINGTON —Russian President Vladimir Putin surprised the West by announcing that Russia will suspend its nuclear treaty with the United States when he delivered his state of the nation speech on Tuesday.
The Russian leader also expressed frustration with the West’s involvement in the Ukrainian war, claiming that “assurances from Western leaders to ensure peace turned out to be a lie.”
The speech, delivered to the Russian Federal Assembly, comes near the Feb. 24 anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Putin skipped it last year due to the initiation of his “military operation.”
Putin’s appearance also dueled with the forceful address that President Joe Biden delivered in Warsaw to reemphasize that the United States will stand for sovereignty, democracy, and the right of the Ukrainian people. Putin, appearing in front of Russia’s senators and State Duma deputies, claimed that he was fighting for both Russian and Ukrainian citizens. He repeatedly asserted that the West, not Russia, was the aggressor in the conflict. “The Ukrainian people have become hostages of the Kyiv regime and its Western masters, which have effectively occupied the country,” Putin said.
In another unusual step, Putin, who has ordered Russians to refer to the invasion as a “special military operation, used the term “war” in referring to the conflict. “Let me reiterate that they were the ones who started this war, while we used force and are using it to stop the war,” Putin said.
Putin also announced that Moscow is “suspending” its participation in the New START nuclear nonproliferation agreement. The New START treaty, signed in Prague in 2010, was the last arms treaty between Russia and the U.S. The treaty regulates and monitors the strategic nuclear warheads that the United States and Russia can deploy.
Putin stated Moscow would no longer allow NATO countries to inspect Russia’s nuclear arsenal. The responsibility for this action again falls on the West as Putin accused the U.S. of “destroying the structure of the international relations set up after the Second World War.”
U.S. officials were quick to attack Moscow for the suspension of the treaty. ” Russia’s announcement that it’s suspending participation is deeply unfortunate and irresponsible,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. “We’ll be watching carefully to see what Russia actually does. We’ll of course make sure that in any event, we are postured appropriately for the security of our own country and that of our allies.”
Putin used his speech to attack certain rights, such as criticizing same-sex marriage. Putin has often attacked LGBTQ rights, calling them “propaganda.” He also just signed off on a law that criminalizes anyone that promotes same-sex marriages.
Putin also offered sympathy to Russian veterans and the families of Russian soldiers killed or hurt in the war in Ukraine. He proposed creating a “special state fund whose objective would be personal help to the families and veterans of the special military operations and those who died in action” while failing to address the strategic and economic hardships the war has caused.