Biden calls Putin's nuclear treaty exit a 'big mistake'

US President meets allies in Warsaw on last stop of European trip

US President Joe Biden met eastern Nato allies in Warsaw on Wednesday. Reuters
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US President Joe Biden on Wednesday condemned Russia's suspension of a nuclear arms treaty as a “big mistake” during the last stop of his trip to Europe.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meanwhile saluted his country's war effort in a lavish Moscow rally, as MPs backed his decision to set aside the New Start treaty.

Two days before the anniversary of the invasion, Mr Biden met Eastern European allies in Poland on what he called the “front line of our collective defence”.

He repeated his promise that the US would defend “literally every inch” of alliance territory amid calls to strengthen Nato's deterrence on its eastern flank.

“You know better than anyone what’s at stake in this conflict. Not just for Ukraine, but for the freedom of democracies throughout Europe and around the world,” Mr Biden told allies.

Russia on Wednesday hailed a deepening alliance with China as Beijing's most senior diplomat, Wang Yi, met the Kremlin leadership in Moscow.

Mr Wang said China was ready to strengthen the partnership, which Mr Putin said was “very important to stabilise the international situation”.

Vladimir Putin gave a speech at a rally in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium. AFP

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the two countries were ready to “defend each other's interests” during a period of “high turbulence on the world stage”.

Mr Putin subsequently appeared at a rally at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium, where he paid tribute to doctors, families of soldiers and others supporting the war effort.

He told the rally to honour Russian troops that they were was fighting for Russia's "historical lands", on what is internationally recognised as Ukraine's territory.

“When we are protecting our interests, our people, when we are protecting our language, culture, our territory — everyone, all of our people, are defenders of the motherland,” he said.

Russia's parliament unanimously backed Mr Putin's move to suspend New Start, the last remaining nuclear arms pact between Moscow and Washington.

Former president Dmitry Medvedev, a close ally of Mr Putin, on Wednesday portrayed the move as an act of self-defence against what Moscow claims is an aggressive US policy.

"If the United States wants to defeat Russia, then we have the right to defend ourselves with any weapon, including nuclear," he said.

Asked for his response to Russia's move, Mr Biden said: “It's a big mistake.”

Senior Russian and Chinese officials meet at the Kremlin. AP

The 2010 treaty sets limits on the deployment of intercontinental-range missiles by the US and Russia. It was extended until 2026 soon after Mr Biden took office.

Ukraine on Wednesday received another promise of western tank deliveries as Spain said it would provide six German-made Leopard 2A4 models.

Germany's decision last month to send 14 of its own Leopards cleared the way for allies to send theirs, but some have yet to make good on that offer.

"We are right now repairing six Leopard 2A4 vehicles... with the possibility, if needed and if our allies request it, of increasing that number," Defence Minister Margarita Robles said.

At the Warsaw meeting, Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance had "never been more united".

“We cannot allow Russia to continue to chip away at European security. We must break the cycle of Russian aggression,” he said.

US President Joe Biden in Poland - in pictures

China separately dismissed as “groundless speculation” US claims that it could be preparing to give Russia weapons for use in Ukraine for the first time.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken claims to have information that China is considering arming Russia in the conflict in Ukraine, which Beijing denies.

Beijing has supported Russia economically by strengthening trade ties and shunning western sanctions, but is not known to have provided weapons.

Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said China “stands on the side of peace” and said it was the US fanning the flames in Ukraine.

The meetings came a day after rival speeches by Mr Putin and Mr Biden, in which the US President framed the war in Ukraine as a struggle for democracy against autocracy. He made a surprise visit to Kyiv on Monday.

Western officials say they have noticed the first signs of an expected Russian spring offensive but that it has made little impact so far.

One official said there was no indication yet of China providing arms, which he said would be a major policy shift.

"China, so far, has not shown any interest in sustaining the war," the official said. "It would be a significant escalation to actively support Russia with lethal aid."

Updated: February 23, 2023, 4:07 AM