In his state of the nation address, Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed the West for the war in Ukraine ahead of the first anniversary of the invasion he ordered.
Putin spoke on Tuesday in front of a crowd of 1,400 people in Moscow, addressing members of both houses of parliament, military commanders and soldiers while video screens were also put up in large cities across the country.
Besides warning the West of a global confrontation, Putin sought to justify the invasion, saying it had been forced on Russia and he understood the pain of the families of those who had fallen in battle.
He also said Russia would suspend participation in the New START treaty, the last major pillar of post-Cold War nuclear arms control between Moscow and Washington, which limits their strategic nuclear arsenals.
Putin said Russia needed to be ready to test nuclear weapons if the United States moves to do so itself.
Almost immediately, global powers such as NATO urged Moscow against withdrawing.
“The announcement by Russia that it’s suspending participation is deeply unfortunate and irresponsible,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“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.”
The New START treaty, which was signed in Prague in 2010, caps the number of strategic nuclear warheads that the US and Russia may deploy and the deployment of land- and submarine-based missiles and bombers to deliver them.
Russia has the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world with close to 6,000 warheads, according to experts. Together, Russia and the US hold about 90 percent of the world’s nuclear warheads – enough to destroy the planet many times over.
In his wide-ranging and angry speech, Putin also condemned same-sex marriage and cast the government in Kyiv as taking the Ukrainian people “hostage” for failing to address their needs.
“I would like to repeat, they started the war, and we used force in order to stop it,” Putin said, insisting that Moscow had tried to settle the conflict in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, which had been simmering since early 2014, by peaceful means but was eventually forced to take action.
“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,” the Russian leader said.
Reactions from US president Joe Biden
United States President Joe Biden has warned Moscow that the West’s support for Kyiv in its fight against the Russian invasion “will not waver”, vowing that the conflict in Ukraine will never be a win for Russia.
Speaking in Warsaw on Tuesday after concluding a previously unannounced trip to Ukraine a day earlier, Biden hailed Ukrainian resistance to what he called Russia’s “aggression”.
“One year after the bombs began to fall and Russian tanks rolled in Ukraine, Ukraine is still independent and free,” Biden said.
He called the war a “tragedy” that was a choice – not a necessity – by Russian President Vladimir Putin, stressing that the conflict would end if Russia ended the invasion of its neighbour.
“There should be no doubt: Our support for Ukraine will not waver, NATO will not be divided and we will not tire,” Biden told a crowd of thousands in the Polish capital.
Washington and its allies have provided billions of dollars in military, humanitarian and budgetary aid to Ukraine since the start of the conflict.
SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES