How will the West react to Vladimir Putin's threats to resume nuclear weapons tests if the US does and suspends its participation in a nuclear arms control deal? ITV News Correspondent John Ray reports
Russia is suspending its participation in the last remaining nuclear arms control pact with the US, President Vladimir Putin announced in a two-hour speech as he blamed Western countries for the invasion of Ukraine.
Mr Putin risked further inflaming tensions with the West ahead of the first anniversary of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine by using a state-of-the-nation address to announce Russia would be pulling out of the New START Treaty.
The pact, signed in 2010 by the US and Russia, caps the number of long-range nuclear warheads the two sides can deploy and limits the use of missiles that can carry atomic weapons.
Mr Putin also said that Russia should stand ready to resume nuclear weapons tests if the US does.
A global ban on tests has been in place since the Cold War era.
During his two-hour speech, Mr Putin blamed the West for the Ukraine war, casting Russia as the victim, doubling down on his frequent justification of his invasion of Ukraine by accusing Western countries of threatening Russia.
“It’s they who have started the war. And we are using force to end it,” Mr Putin said before an audience of politicians, state officials and soldiers who fought in Ukraine.
He also repeated his claims that Moscow was defending civilians in regions of Ukraine that Moscow has illegally annexed
“We aren’t fighting the Ukrainian people,” Mr Putin said, claiming Ukraine “has become hostage of the Kyiv regime and its Western masters, which have effectively occupied the country.”
The West is aware that “it is impossible to defeat Russia on the battlefield,” so it launched “aggressive information attacks” by “misconstruing historical facts,” attacking Russian culture, religion and values, Mr Putin said.
There were no conciliatory overtones as he vowed no military let-up in Ukrainian territories Moscow has illegally annexed.
Mr Putin also accused Western nations of waging an attack on Russia’s economy with sanctions but that they had not “achieved anything and will not achieve anything."
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg voiced regret about Mr Putin’s move, saying that “with today’s decision on New START, full arms control architecture has been dismantled”.
“I strongly encourage Russia to reconsider its decision and respect existing agreements,” he told reporters.
He also dismissed Mr Putin's claim that Russia did not start the war.
"It is President Putin who started this imperial war of conquest and it is Putin who keeps escalating the war," he said.
While the Russian constitution mandates that the president deliver the key speech annually, Mr Putin never gave one in 2022, as his troops rolled into Ukraine and suffered repeated setbacks. His address on Tuesday comes nearly a year on from the invasion on February 24 2022.
After Mr Putin's speech, Downing Street said it “will not waver” in its support for Ukraine.
The UK’s ambassador in Kyiv, Dame Melinda Simmons, said: “Nobody is responsible for the Russian invasion of Ukraine but Russia.”
The prime minister’s official spokesman told reporters in Westminster that Mr Sunak had not watched Mr Putin’s speech as he was chairing a Cabinet meeting, but he noted that “nearly one year on, the West’s resolve has only been strengthened and Ukraine continues to demonstrate its ability to defend its sovereignty”.
Mr Putin's defiant speech comes the day after President Joe Biden visited Kyiv to underline the United States' support for Ukraine.
After paying an unannounced visit to Kyiv, Mr Biden made his way to Warsaw on a mission to solidify Western unity as both Ukraine and Russia prepare to launch spring offensives.
“I thought it was critical that there not be any doubt, none whatsoever, about US support for Ukraine in the war,” Mr Biden said as he stood with Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy before departing for Poland.
Mr Biden met Polish President Andrzej Duda where he reaffirmed the United States' dedication to European security.
He will later deliver an address from the gardens of Warsaw’s Royal Castle on Tuesday and is also due to consult with allies from NATO’s eastern flank in Poland as the Russian invasion of Ukraine edges towards an even more complicated stage.
Mr Biden described NATO as “maybe the most consequential alliance in history," and he said it's “stronger than it's ever been” despite Russian President Vladimir Putin's hopes that it would fracture over the war in Ukraine.
While Mr Biden is looking to use his trip to Europe as a moment of affirmation for Ukraine and its allies, the White House has also emphasised that there is no clear endgame to the war in the short term and the situation on the ground has become increasingly complex.
The administration on Sunday revealed it has new intelligence suggesting that China, which has remained on the sidelines of the conflict, is now considering sending Moscow lethal aid. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it could become a “serious problem” if Beijing follows through.
ITV News Asia Correspondent Debi Edward said China's foreign minister Qin Gang had warned unnamed countries "to stop fuelling the flames, shifting the blame on China and stop clamouring for Ukraine today, Taiwan tomorrow."
He said his country wants to play a role in ending the conflict. He said China would continue to urge peace talks and provide “Chinese wisdom" to bring about a political settlement.
Mr Zelenskyy has been pushing the US and European allies to provide fighter jets and long-range missile systems known as ATACMS - which Mr Biden has declined to provide so far.
With no end in sight for the war, the anniversary is a critical moment for Mr Biden to try to bolster European unity and reiterate that Mr Putin’s invasion was a frontal attack on the post-World War II international order. The White House hopes the president’s visit to Kyiv and Warsaw will help bolster American and global resolve.
“It is going to be a long war,” said Michal Baranowski, managing director of the German Marshall Fund East.
“If we don’t have the political leadership and if we don’t explain to our societies why this war is critical for their security... then Ukraine would be in trouble.”
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In the US, a poll published last week by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that support for providing Ukraine with weapons and direct economic assistance is softening. And earlier this month, 11 House Republicans introduced what they called the “Ukraine fatigue” resolution urging Biden to end military and financial aid to Ukraine, while pushing Ukraine and Russia to come to a peace agreement.
Mr Biden dismissed the notion of waning American support during his visit to Kyiv.
“For all the disagreement we have in our Congress on some issues, there is significant agreement on support for Ukraine,” he said.
“It’s not just about freedom in Ukraine… It’s about freedom of democracy at large.”
Ahead of the trip, the White House spotlighted Poland’s efforts to assist Ukraine. More than 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees have settled in Poland since the start of the war and millions more have crossed through Poland on their way to other countries. Poland has also provided Ukraine with $3.8 billion in military and humanitarian aid, according to the White House.
The Biden administration announced last summer that it was establishing a permanent US garrison in Poland, creating an enduring American foothold on NATO’s eastern flank.
The US has committed about $113 billion in aid to Ukraine since last year, while European allies have committed tens of billions of dollars more and welcomed millions of Ukrainian refugees who have fled the conflict.
“We built a coalition from the Atlantic to the Pacific,” Mr Biden said. “Russia’s aim was to wipe Ukraine off the map. Putin’s war of conquest is failing.”
For the second time in less than a year, Mr Biden will use Warsaw as the backdrop to deliver a major address on the Russian invasion. Last March, he delivered a forceful and highly personal condemnation of Mr Putin at the Royal Castle just weeks after the start of the war.