Putin speech: Russian leader vows to continue Ukraine offensive

Russian President suspends arms treaty with US a day after Biden commits to 'unwavering' support for Kyiv

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Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the West of playing a dirty game over Ukraine in his annual address to parliament on Tuesday.

His speech set the tone for a continuing Russian offensive, with a call to strengthen the armed forces and shore up the wartime economy.

Mr Putin also delivered a nuclear warning to the West over Ukraine, announcing that Moscow would suspend its participation in the last remaining arms control treaty between the world's two main nuclear powers, Russia and the US, known as the New Start treaty.

He said that while he would not withdraw Russia from the treaty completely, he would not allow Nato countries to inspect his country's arsenal.

In a speech lasting about an hour and 45 minutes, he claimed the West had started the war in Ukraine, accused it of “cynically cheating its people” and said its goal was “limitless power”.

He claimed Russia wanted to solve the conflict in Ukraine peacefully but that western countries had prepared a “different scenario” behind its back.

He said: “We were doing everything possible to solve this problem peacefully, negotiating a peaceful way out of this difficult conflict, but behind our backs a very different scenario was being prepared.”

Speaking before US President Joe Biden was scheduled to deliver a speech in Poland on Tuesday, Mr Putin accused Nato members of “playing a dirty game” with “repulsive lying and two-faced behaviour”.

Mr Putin vowed to “systematically” continue the Ukraine offensive and said western countries, led by the US, were seeking “unlimited power” in world affairs.

In his speech, he:

  • Claimed he was making the address at a difficult time, a “watershed moment” for the country
  • Repeated the unfounded assertion that Russia was facing a “Nazi threat”, with “constant threats and hatred” from the Kyiv government
  • Said since the 19th century the West had tried to tear the historical lands from our country, “what is now called Ukraine
  • Said the people of Ukraine had become the “hostage of the Kyiv regime” and its “western overlords”
  • Claimed Moscow was defying the West's attempts to ruin Russia's economy
  • Said Russia had all the resources it needed

Mr Putin made the remarks in an address to members of both houses of parliament, nearly a year to the day since he sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in a move that has triggered the biggest confrontation with the West since the Cold War.

“Step by step, carefully and consistently, we will resolve the tasks facing Russia,” he said.

“Since 2014, the [people of the] Donbas had been fighting, defending their right to live on their own land, to speak their native language.

“They fought and did not give up in the conditions of blockade and constant shelling, undisguised hatred on the part of the Kyiv regime. They believed and expected that Russia would come to their rescue.”

He thanked Russians for their “courage and resolution” in supporting what Moscow calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine.

After accusing the US and Nato of failing to co-operate over New Start, he said: “In this regard, I am forced to announce today that Russia is suspending its participation in the strategic offensive arms treaty.”

Russia and the US have vast arsenals of nuclear weapons left over from the Cold War and remain, by far, the biggest nuclear powers. Between them, they hold 90 per cent of the world's nuclear warheads.

The treaty, signed by president Barack Obama in 2010 when relations were warmer, reduced limits on each country's nuclear warheads by nearly 30 per cent, to 1,550 warheads on deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine ballistic missiles and heavy bombers. Both sides met the central limits by 2018.

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he regretted Russia's decision to suspend its participation in the treaty and urged Moscow to reconsider.

Speaking alongside Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell shortly after Mr Putin's speech, Mr Stoltenberg said Russia was the aggressor.

“It is President Putin who started this imperial war of conquest. As Putin made clear today, he's preparing for more war. Putin must not win. It would be dangerous for our own security and the whole world,” he said.

A senior aide to Ukraine's President said Mr Putin's speech showed “he has lost touch with reality”.

“He is in a completely different reality, where there is no opportunity to conduct a dialogue about justice and international law,” political adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that it had summoned US ambassador Lynne Tracy over what it called Washington's increasingly “aggressive course”, accusing it of widening its involvement in the Ukraine conflict.

“In this regard, the ambassador was told that the current aggressive course of the United States to deepen confrontation with Russia in all areas is counterproductive,” the ministry said.

It also called on the US to give an explanation over blasts that damaged the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 gas pipelines last year.

Mr Putin's speech comes a day after Mr Biden paid a surprise visit to Kyiv to pledge “unwavering” support for Ukraine.

Mr Biden is holding talks with Poland's President Andrzej Duda in Warsaw.

During the trip, Mr Biden promised the US would send another $500 million in military aid to Ukraine and said more sanctions would this week be imposed on Russian officials and companies.

Mr Biden and Mr Duda were to discuss plans to reinforce Poland's security and an increased Nato presence in the country, the Polish President's foreign affairs adviser said.

Updated: February 21, 2023, 12:55 PM