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Local residents walk at the scene after a deadly Russian shelling that hit a bus station in Kherson, Ukraine, Feb. 21, 2023.Nina Lyashonok/The Associated Press

Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the West of trying to destroy his country, and stated that Russia will halt its participation in a key nuclear arms treaty that has been in place since the end of the Cold War.

Speaking almost a year to the day after he ordered the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Mr. Putin said that it was “absurd” for the United States to be allowed to inspect Russian nuclear facilities at a time when the U.S. and its allies were sending military support to Ukraine.

“The U.S. and NATO say it’s their goal to strategically defeat Russia,” Mr. Putin said. “I am forced to announce today that Russia is suspending its participation in the strategic offensive arms treaty.”

He was referring to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). That agreement, along with its 2011 successor, known as New START, capped the number of nuclear warheads each side could possess – most recently at 1,550 – and established a verification process that allowed U.S. and Russian monitors to visit the other country’s nuclear facilities up to 18 times a year. Mr. Putin specified that his country was not withdrawing from the pact, but “putting it on hold.”

Hours later U.S. President Joe Biden told a cheering crowd in Warsaw that the Russian people should reject Mr. Putin’s assertions.

“The U.S. and European countries do not seek to destroy or control Russia,” Mr. Biden said during remarks at the Royal Castle gardens.

“Autocrats only understand one word: no,” he added. “No, you will not take my country. No, you will not take my freedom. No, you will not take my future.”

The leaders made their duelling speeches close to the first anniversary of the war in Ukraine – and the styles couldn’t have been more stark. Mr. Putin delivered his remarks to a crowd of Russia’s political, cultural and religious elites. Mr. Biden spoke at an outdoor rally that began with upbeat pop music and ended with the President shaking hands and posing for photographs with children carrying Polish, Ukrainian and American flags. He did not directly address Mr. Putin’s decision to abandon New START.

Both leaders used their remarks to frame the war in a broader context and portray it as a noble struggle.

Mr. Putin said the West was engaging in a global conflict that threatened the future of Russia. “This is exactly how we understand it all and we will react accordingly, because in this case we are talking about the existence of our country.” Defeating Russia, he said, would prove “impossible.”

The 70-year-old Kremlin boss declared that Ukraine – which has received billions of dollars in foreign military and economic support since the start of the invasion – was now “effectively occupied” by the West, which was intent on using the war to weaken Russia.

Mr. Biden, 80, said the war had shown the resilience of democracy and freedom. “Democracies of the world will stand guard over freedom today, tomorrow and forever,” he said. “Free people refuse to live in a world of hopelessness and darkness”.

He drew prolonged applause from the thousands of people who jammed into the small gardens. “This is an historic event, not only for Ukraine, not only for Poland, but for the whole world,” said Piotr Dabrowa, 40, who came to the speech with his wife and teenaged daughter. “Because if we are standing and waiting, it’s going to be very bad. If we give Ukraine as much help as we can, it’s going to be better and better.”

Russian troops crossed into Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, expecting to swiftly overwhelm the smaller Ukrainian military and capture Kyiv. Instead, Ukrainian forces staged a successful defence of their capital before launching a series of counteroffensives.

Tens of thousands of people have died in Ukraine, and millions more have been forced from their homes over 363 days of war. Mr. Putin claimed last year to have annexed the Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson provinces (in addition to Crimea, which Russia seized in 2014), even though none of those areas are under complete Russian control.

President Vladimir Putin said on Feb. 21 that Russia was suspending its participation in the New START treaty with the United States that limits the two sides' strategic nuclear arsenals. Putin made the comments in his annual televised address.


While Russian troops still occupy about 15 per cent of Ukraine, Kyiv was deemed safe enough for Mr. Biden to visit Kyiv on Monday.

On Tuesday, Mr. Biden reiterated his support for Ukraine, saying it “will never be a victory for Russia, never.” He described the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as “maybe the most consequential alliance in history,” and added that it had grown stronger over the past year.

As the leaders spoke, the fighting in Ukraine raged on. Russian forces shelled the southern city of Kherson, the capital of one of the regions Mr. Putin says is now part of the Russian Federation, but where residents celebrated late last year after Russian troops were forced to withdraw after an eight-month occupation.

Six people were killed and 12 others were wounded on Tuesday when a rocket landed on a busy street near the city centre. Photographs and video from the scene showed bodies lying in the road and a large pool of blood on the sidewalk near a mangled bus stop.

Withdrawal from New START will further escalate the already dangerously high tensions between Russia and the West. The move serves as a blunt reminder – at a time when the Russian army appears bogged down in its attempt to seize more Ukrainian territory – that the Kremlin still possesses its massive nuclear arsenal.

Mr. Putin – who has transformed Russia from a troubled democracy into an outright authoritarian state over his 23-year rule – stated that his country was ready to resume nuclear tests if the U.S. did so. “Of course, we will not do this first. But if the United States conducts tests, then we will. No one should have dangerous illusions that global strategic parity can be destroyed,” he said.

While several other countries possess nuclear weapons, Russia and the U.S. still account for about 90 per cent of all global warheads between them.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday that he regretted Mr. Putin’s decision to suspend New START because it “makes the world more dangerous,” and urged the Russian leader to reconsider.

Former Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, however, said Western leaders had to be careful not to get sucked into Mr. Putin’s “game” of nuclear brinksmanship.

“Putin is trying to raise the stakes. But the thing is that he doesn’t have enough leverage in his hands,” Mr. Yatsenyuk said during an interview in Kyiv, dismissing the possibility that Russia might use the kind of strategic nuclear weapons regulated by the treaty. Mr. Yatsenyuk said that while there was a risk Mr. Putin would use smaller tactical – or “battlefield” – nuclear weapons against the Ukrainian military, those were not covered by New START, “so nothing has changed except that he wanted to get some media coverage.”

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