Putin raises tension on Ukraine and suspends START nuclear pact

Russian President Vladimir Putin has suspended Moscow’s participation in the last remaining nuclear arms control pact with the United States, announcing the move Tuesday in a bitter speech in which he made clear he would not change his strategy on the war in Ukraine.

Putin stressed, however, that Russia has not yet withdrawn from the pact, and hours after his speech, the Foreign Ministry said that Moscow would respect the limits of the nuclear weapons treaty. He also said that Russia would continue to exchange information on ballistic missile test launches under previous agreements with the United States.

In his long-delayed state of the nation address, Putin branded his country, and Ukraine, victims of Western double-dealing and said it was Russia, not Ukraine, that was fighting for its very existence.

“We are not fighting against the Ukrainian people,” Putin said before the first anniversary of the war on Friday. “The Ukrainian people have become hostages to the kyiv regime and its Western masters, who have effectively occupied the country.”

The speech reiterated a litany of grievances that he has frequently offered as justification for the widely condemned military campaign, while vowing not to leave the military.

Along with limits on the number of nuclear weapons, the 2010 New START provides for extensive inspections of nuclear sites. Putin said Russia should be ready to resume nuclear weapons tests if the United States does so, a move that would end a global ban on such tests in place since the Cold War era.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres responded by calling on Russia and the United States to immediately resume dialogue because “a world without nuclear weapons control is much more dangerous and unstable.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken described Moscow’s decision to suspend participation in the treaty as “really unfortunate and very irresponsible.”

“We will watch closely to see what Russia actually does,” he said while visiting Greece.

China’s ambassador to the UN, Zhang Jun, called on the United States and Russia to “continue to negotiate with each other to find a good solution.”

US President Joe Biden, speaking in Poland a day after his surprise visit to Ukraine, made no mention of START’s suspension but criticized Putin for the invasion. He promised continued support for Ukraine despite the “hard and bitter days ahead.”

“The democracies of the world will watch over freedom today, tomorrow and forever,” Biden said at the iconic Royal Castle in Warsaw to a cheering crowd of Polish and Ukrainian refugees.

Putin’s announcement was the second time in recent days that the Ukraine war showed it could spill into dangerous new terrain, after Blinken told China over the weekend that it would be a “serious problem” if Beijing provide weapons and ammunition to Russia.

China and Russia have aligned their foreign policies to oppose Washington. Beijing has refused to condemn Russia’s invasion or atrocities against civilians in Ukraine, while strongly criticizing Western economic sanctions against Moscow. At the end of last year, Russia and China held joint naval exercises.

The deputy head of Ukraine’s intelligence service, Vadym Skibitskyi, told The Associated Press that his agency has so far seen no sign that China is supplying Moscow with weapons.

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022 and rushed towards kyiv, apparently hoping to overrun the capital quickly. But strong resistance from Ukrainian forces, backed by Western weapons, pushed Moscow’s troops back. While Ukraine has claimed many areas initially occupied by Russia, the parties have been bogged down elsewhere.

The war revived the division between Russia and the West, reinvigorated the NATO alliance and created the biggest threat to Putin’s government in more than two decades.

In Tuesday’s speech, Putin again offered his own version of recent history, dismissing Ukraine’s arguments that it needed Western help to thwart a Russian military takeover. He has repeatedly described the expansion of NATO to include countries close to Russia as an existential threat to his country.

“It is they who have started the war. And we are using force to put an end to it,” he said before an audience of legislators, officials and the military, and broadcast on all state television channels.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who was in Ukraine on Tuesday, said she wished Putin had taken a different approach.

“What we heard this morning was propaganda that we already know about,” Meloni said in English. “He says that (Russia) worked on diplomacy to avoid conflict, but the truth is that there is someone who is the invader and someone who is defending himself.”

He also met with Zelenskyy, the newly appointed chairman of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, who led a delegation for the first time since the start of the war and since the Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives. Representatives.

Chairman Mike McCaul and a handful of other Republican lawmakers said they had a productive meeting on what Zelenskyy needs to win the war. He provided them with a list of weapons, including long-range artillery and air-to-surface systems.

The meeting comes as some far-right Republicans vow to block future US aid to Ukraine. “We have seen time and time again that the majority of Republicans and Democrats support our assistance to Ukraine,” McCaul said in a statement. “But the Biden administration needs to design its long-term strategy.”

Putin has denied any wrongdoing in Ukraine, even after Kremlin forces attacked civilian targets, including hospitals, and are widely accused of war crimes.

Zelenskyy cited new attacks on Ukrainian civilians on Tuesday and downplayed Putin’s speech.

“I have not seen it, because during this time there were missile attacks on Kherson. Twenty-one people were injured and six died,” he said.

Putin also accused the West of attacking Russian culture, religion and values. He fired another volley at Western gender politics that he described as efforts to destroy “traditional” values.

And he said that Western sanctions had “achieved nothing and will achieve nothing.” He criticized Russian tycoons who kept their assets in the West and saw them seized or frozen as part of the sanctions.

“Believe me, ordinary people did not sympathize with those who lost their yachts, palaces and other property abroad,” Putin said.

While Russia’s constitution requires the president to deliver the state of the nation address annually, Putin never gave one in 2022. Last year, the Kremlin also canceled two other major annual events: Putin’s press conference and a heavily scripted phone call marathon. Taking questions from the public.

Reflecting the Kremlin’s crackdown on free speech and press, he banned in-person coverage of the speech by media from “unsympathetic” countries, including the US, UK and those in the European Union.

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