President Putin suspends key US nuclear arms treaty, accuses the West of starting Ukraine war

The United States has slammed the 'absurdity' of Vladimir Putin's state-of-the-nation speech today, in which he said Russia would suspend its participation in a key nuclear arms treaty and accused the West of starting the war in Ukraine.

The despot claimed the West was plotting to achieve 'limitless power' and vowed to 'systematically' continue with the offensive in Ukraine during an explosive speech in Russia's parliament.

He told lawmakers he was addressing them 'at a time which we all know is a difficult, watershed moment for our country, a time of cardinal, irreversible changes around the world, the most important historic events that will shape the future of our country and our people'.

He added: 'The responsibility for fuelling the Ukrainian conflict, for its escalation, for the number of victims... lies completely with Western elites.'

Kyiv quickly hit back at the Russian leader, with presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak saying the speech demonstrated the 'hopelessness of [Putin's] position' and that he was 'in a completely different reality'.

As US President Joe Biden prepared to give a speech in Warsaw, the country's national security adviser Jake Sullivan said there is 'a kind of absurdity in the notion that Russia was under some form of military threat from Ukraine or anyone else.'

He added: 'This was a war of choice. Putin chose to fight it. He could have chosen not to. And he can choose even now to end it, to go home. Nobody is attacking Russia.'

Late in his rambling near two-hour address, Putin announced Russia was suspending its participation in the New Start programme with the US, which limits the two sides' strategic nuclear arsenals.

The New Start treaty was signed in Prague in 2010, came into force the following year and was extended in 2021 for five more years just after Mr Biden took office.

It caps the number of strategic nuclear warheads that the US and Russia can deploy, and the deployment of land- and submarine-based missiles and bombers.

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 around 90 per cent of the world's nuclear warheads - enough to destroy the planet many times over.

Nato's secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said he regretted Russia's decision to suspend its participation in the nuclear arms control treaty and urged Moscow to reconsider.

During a joint press conference with Ukraine's foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba and the EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, he insisted that 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.

'I regret the decision by Russia to suspend its participation in the New Start programme'.

Putin's address comes days before the war in Ukraine passes the one-year mark on Friday. Putin ordered his forces into the country on February 24, 2022 in what the Kremlin calls a 'special military operation' instead of a war.

Since then, tens of thousands of men have been killed, and Putin, 70, now says Russia is locked in an existential battle with an arrogant West which he claims - without evidence - wants to carve up Russia and steal its vast natural resources.

The West and Ukraine reject that narrative, and say Nato expansion eastwards is no justification for what they say is an imperial-style land grab doomed to failure. It was Russia that was the aggressor and who attacked Ukraine unprovoked, they say.

Putin levelled several accusations at Western powers, saying they wanted 'to be done with us [Russia] once and for all'. He said Ukraine's allies were responsible for the war, were plotting to change the conflict into a global one to gain ultimate power and that they were trying to divide Russian society.

Flanked by four Russian tricolour flags on either side of him, Putin also vowed Russia would press on with the invasion - which the Kremlin had expected to last a matter of days culminating in the overthrowing of Kyiv's government.

'Step by step we will carefully and systematically solve the aims that face us,' he said.

The West, Putin said, had let the genie out of the bottle in a host of regions across the world by sowing chaos and war.

'We were doing everything possible to solve this problem [in Ukraine] peacefully, negotiating a peaceful way out of this difficult conflict, but behind our backs a very different scenario was being prepared,' he claimed.

'The people of Ukraine themselves have become hostages of the Kyiv regime and its Western masters, who have actually occupied this country in a political, military, and economic sense.' 

He claimed that the West is aware that 'it is impossible to defeat Russia on the battlefield,' so it launches 'aggressive information attacks' by 'misconstruing historical facts', and attacking Russian culture, religion and values.

Citing another justification he has used for the war, Putin claimed his forces are protecting civilians in regions of Ukraine that Moscow has since illegally annexed.

'We are defending people's lives, our home,' he said. 'And the West is striving for an unlimited domination.'

Putin framed fighting in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region between Kyiv's forces and Russian-backed separatists as a fight for freedom. Fighting there has been ongoing since 2014, and used by Putin as justification to launch the larger offensive.

'Starting from 2014, the Donbas has been fighting [for the] right to live in one's one land and speak its native language, fighting without surrender in the environment of constant threats and hatred that was coming from the Kyiv regime,' he said.

'Meanwhile, and you know it very well, we were doing everything possible, really everything possible, to settle that problem by peaceful means,' he claimed.

'We were patiently negotiating about a peaceful exit from that hardest conflict but behind our back, quite a different scenario was being prepared, the promises of Western leaders, their assurances about their adherence to peace turned out as a fraud. A cruel lie. They were just playing for time.' 

The Russian despot also said that he understood how difficult it was for relatives of Russian soldiers who had died fighting in Ukraine, and said he would provide them 'targeted support' with a new special fund. Britain's MoD has estimated that there have been as many as 200,000 dead or wounded Russian soldiers in the last year.

'We all understand, I understand how unbearably hard it is now for the wives, sons, daughters of fallen soldiers, their parents, who raised worthy defenders of the Fatherland,' Putin told lawmakers.

He asked the audience, which included lawmakers, soldiers, spy chiefs and state company bosses, to stand to remember those who had lost their lives in the war.

He also threatened any Russian dissenters. 'Those who have embarked on the path of betrayal of Russia must be held accountable under the law,' Putin said, adding that authorities would not unleash a 'witch hunt' against dissenters.

Putin, who frequently decries Western gender and sexual freedoms as an existential danger, also said paedophilia had become the norm in the West.

'Look at what they do to their own people: the destruction of families, of cultural and national identities and the perversion that is child abuse all the way up to paedophilia are advertised as the norm... and priests are forced to bless same-sex marriages,' he said.

Putin, who was handed the presidency on the last day of 1999 by Boris Yeltsin, said the West had failed to destroy the Russian economy with the severest sanctions in modern history, which were imposed over his invasion.

'They want to make the people suffer... but their calculation did not materialise. The Russian economy and the management turned out to be much stronger than they thought,' Putin said.

Russia's $2.1trillion economy is forecast by the International Monetary Fund to grow 0.3 per cent this year, far below China and India's growth rates but a much better result than was forecast when the war began.

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