Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday froze his country's compliance with the last nuclear disarmament treaty still in force between Russia and the United States, New START or START III, and said he was preparing for a long military campaign in Ukraine. "They want to inflict a strategic defeat on us, and they are going into our nuclear facilities. That is why I am forced to announce today that Russia is suspending its participation in the Strategic Offensive Arms Treaty," Putin said in his state of the nation address to both houses of parliament.
During an hour and 45-minute speech he made not a single mention of a possible dialogue, defended "Russia's right to be strong" and accused the West of being solely responsible for geopolitical tension in the world, including in Ukraine. The gauntlet was immediately taken up by NATO, whose Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, denounced that Russia's decision had dismantled "the entire arms control architecture".
Putin, who insists that Moscow has unparalleled hypersonic weaponry in the world, said that "Russia is not abandoning, but only suspending" compliance with the treaty signed in 2010, which was extended in 2021 by the Russian leader and US President Joe Biden and expires in 2026. Among other things, New START reduces the number of nuclear warheads by 30%, to 1,550 per country.
He said that 'if the US conducts nuclear tests with a new type of strategic weaponry, Russia will also conduct tests' of this kind. "Of course, we will not be the first to do so (...). No one should harbour the dangerous illusion that strategic global parity can be destroyed," he said.
Vladimir Putin dismissed as "theatre of the absurd" the statement in which NATO demanded that Russia comply with the treaty and called for the inclusion of the Atlantic Alliance in New START since, he recalled, France and the UK also have strategic arsenals.
The US suspended the arms control dialogue after the start of the "special military operation" almost a year ago and the latest attempt to resume it last November was postponed indefinitely by Moscow. Moreover, Russia informed Washington in August of its decision to ban US on-site inspections of its nuclear arsenal, citing difficulties in doing the same in the US due to Western sanctions.
Russian deputies and senators rejected Putin's decision as "a threat to global security" but rather a warning to the West. "Nuclear powers do not lose wars," said Leonid Slutski, head of the Duma Foreign Affairs Committee.
The Russian president accused the West of wanting to "wipe out" Russia "once and for all", which would threaten the "existence of the country", a condition for the use of nuclear weapons, according to Russian military doctrine. While denouncing NATO's desire to turn a local conflict into a "global confrontation", Putin warned that Russia's defeat on the battlefield "is impossible".
"One thing should be clear to everyone: the greater the scope of the weaponry supplied to Ukraine, the more we will be forced to push the threat away from our borders," he said. The Russian leader denounced that "the West is using Ukraine as a polygon, as a battering ram against Russia" and argued that even before the Russian military campaign began almost a year ago, Kiev was already negotiating with its sponsors for arms supplies.
Stoltenberg countered that "no one is attacking Russia", which he called an "aggressor", and claimed that there are "no signs" that Putin is preparing for peace, but "for more war".
Putin did not allude to the progress of the military campaign, in which the Russian army has not taken a major Ukrainian city since July 2022, although he implied that it is going to be a long one. "And step by step, carefully and consistently, we will fulfil the tasks we face," he stressed, three days shy of the first anniversary of the campaign in Ukraine that he ordered to begin on 24 February 2022.
He insisted that it was the West that "unleashed the war", that Russia did "everything possible, really everything possible to solve this problem by peaceful means" and argued that it has resorted to force "to stop it". In this regard, he said that Russians fighting in Ukraine will have a holiday of "at least" two weeks every six months and proposed creating a state fund to help veterans and the families of those killed in Ukraine, the number of which the Kremlin refuses to disclose.