Putin rages against the West in major speech on Ukraine war as Biden rallies allies in Poland
Vladimir Putin railed against the West on Tuesday in a long-delayed state-of-the-nation address, accusing Ukraine’s allies of starting the war.
Putin claims his war, in which tens of thousands have been killed, is needed to “demilitarise” Ukraine. The West and Nato reject that and accuse Putin of an unprovoked war of expansion.
A senior aide to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said Putin’s speech showed he had lost touch with reality. The Russian president ordered a lightning strike to seize Kyiv last February but the operation failed in the face of fierce Ukrainian resistance and poor Russian military tactics and supplies.
Britain estimates his war has left up to 200,000 Russian casualties and as many as 60,000 killed. Ukrainian troops have also been hit by high casualties, with more than 40,000 civilians reported to have been killed, often in indiscriminate Russian artillery shelling and air strikes.
Putin accused the West and Nato of wanting to “make the conflict global” in a rambling speech lasting nearly two hours ahead of the war’s one-year anniversary on Friday and praised the country’s soldiers.
He also suspended Moscow's participation in the last remaining nuclear arms control pact with the US.
"I am making this address 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,” Putin told Russian lawmakers.
“We did everything possible, genuinely everything possible, in order to solve this problem [in Ukraine] by peaceful means.
“We were patient, we were negotiating a peaceful way out of this difficult conflict, but a completely different scenario was being prepared behind our backs.”
He added: “It's they who have started the war. And we are using force to end it.”
The Russian leader said he was suspending Russia’s participation in the New START treaty with the United States which caps the number of strategic nuclear warheads that the United States and Russia can deploy.
“In this regard, I am forced to announce today that Russia is suspending its participation in the strategic offensive arms treaty,” he said.
The treaty came into force in 2011 and was extended in 2021 for five more years just after US President Joe Biden took office.
The speech showed Putin has lost touch with reality, a senior Ukrainian official said in response.
“He is in a completely different reality, where there is no opportunity to conduct a dialogue about justice and international law,” presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told news agency Reuters.
Putin accused the West of seeking to destabilise Russian society and of “stealing” the nation’s wealth. He said: “The elites of the West do not hide their purpose... They intend to transform a local conflict into a phase of global confrontation. 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. But they also cannot fail to realise that it is impossible to defeat Russia on the battlefield.”
He asked the audience, which included members of parliament, soldiers, spy chiefs and state company bosses, to stand to remember those who had lost their lives in the war which has triggered the biggest confrontation between Russia and the West since the depths of the Cold War. He promised a special fund for the families of those killed in the war, as well as more housing for military families.
Putin’s speech took place while Joe Biden is in Warsaw, fresh from a surprise visit to Kyiv, where he pledged the West would stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.
“As I told President Zelenskiy when we spoke in Kyiv yesterday, I can probably say that our support for Ukraine remains unwavering,” Biden told Polish President Andrzej Duda.
According to the White House, Mr Biden listened to the speech before making his own remarks later in Poland.
Responding to Russia’s claim that the West has provoked the war, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said: “Nobody is attacking Russia. There's a kind of absurdity in the notion that Russia was under some form of military threat from Ukraine or anyone else.”
Russia has suffered a series of major battlefield reversals during the war but still controls around one-fifth of Ukraine.
These include being forced into retreats from Kyiv, Kharkiv in the north-east and Kherson in the south.
British officials also expect it is likely that Russia will claim victory on the eastern frontline of Bakhmut to coincide with the anniversary - regardless of the actual situation on the ground.
Russia is widely expected to be planning a spring offensive, which could increase tensions within the Russian leadership if it does not prove fruitful.
As Mr Putin spoke on Tuesday, the UN released new figures showing the war has left at least 8,006 civilians dead and 13,287 injured over the past 12 months.
However, the UN Human Rights Office stressed that the actual figures are likely substantially higher, as its numbers only reflect verified individual cases.