What does Putin plan to do next? What he said in speech today

The Russian president has announced the country's temporary withdrawal from a landmark nuclear arms treaty and blamed the West for the ongoing conflict in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual address to the Federal Assembly in Moscow, Russia February 21, 2023. Sputnik/Sergei Savostyanov/Pool via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual address to the Federal Assembly in Moscow. (Sputnik/Sergei Savostyanov/Pool via Reuters)

What has happened? Almost a year to the day since he invaded Ukraine, Russian president Vladimir Putin slammed the West for igniting the conflict, using his annual State of the Nation address to reiterate his commitment to the war.

Among the extensive grievances with the West that he listed during his almost two-hour-long speech was his belief that figures in Washington were considering resuming nuclear testing, ongoing sanctions over Ukraine, and so-called "aggressive information attacks" on Russian cultural values.

Putin also used the address to announce Russia would suspend its membership of the New Start nuclear arms treaty, and to insist that Russia's fight was not with Ukrainians who had become "hostages of the Kyiv regime".

Read on to find out what Putin's address suggests he will do next...

Putin suspends nuclear New START Treaty with US

The key takeaway from Putin's speech in terms of future engagement with the West is his decision to suspend Russia's participation in the strategic offensive arms treaty.

Although he did not confirm a permanent withdrawal from the landmark treaty signed by then-US president Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in 2010, Putin's announcement is a stark warning about the country's nuclear capabilities.

Russia and the US, which between them account for 90% of the world's nuclear firepower, are restricted to 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads each by the treaty. However, Putin asserted, without providing evidence, that some actors in Washington were mulling further nuclear testing — and said he wanted to be able to respond in kind.

"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," Putin said. "A week ago, I signed a decree on putting new ground-based strategic systems on combat duty. Are they going to stick their nose in there too, or what?"

U.S. President Joe Biden and Polish President Andrzej Duda (not pictured) participate in a bilateral meeting to discuss collective efforts to support Ukraine and bolster NATO's deterrence at the Presidential Palace in Warsaw, Poland, February 21, 2023. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein
U.S. President Joe Biden (pictured at a bilateral meeting with Poland to discuss collective efforts to support Ukraine) extended the nuclear arms treaty in 2021. (Reuters)

The treaty was due to expire in 2026. NATO immediately encouraged Putin to reconsider his decision following the address.

Russia to continue offensive in Ukraine

Putin's speech left little doubt that Russia will continue its attacks on Ukraine — indeed, during the president's address, Russian forces fired around 20 rockets into the southern city of Kherson, leaving six dead and at least 12 others injured, Ukraine said.

"The Russian army is heavily shelling Kherson. Again mercilessly killing the civilian population," Reuters reported Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelenskyy writing on the Telegram messaging app.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (not pictured) via phone line, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine January 25, 2023. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky shared his thoughts on the attack on Kherson. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via Reuters)

The Russian president blamed the West for escalating the ongoing conflict, commenting in his address: "The elites of the West do not hide their purpose... That is, 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. Therefore, they are conducting more and more aggressive information attacks against us."

Among those "information attacks" described by Putin were the alleged censure of Russian culture and religion; providing an opportunity for the president to once again highlight his deeply conservative attitude on homosexuality that has seen an increase in Russia's anti-LGBTQ laws.

Putin also pushed back on the West's supply of weapons to Ukraine, issuing a threat about Russian expansion. "The more long-range Western systems are supplied to Ukraine, the further we will be forced to move the threat away from our borders. It's natural," he said.

Russia will reduce reliance on West

Putin's speech suggested the West's intention to damage Russia with sanctions had failed: "Many basic civilian sectors of the domestic economy not only have not shrunk but have actually increased production," he said

While the country's GDP did suffer in 2022, with balanced forecasts putting contracting at 3.3–3.4 percent, according to The Economist, the Russian economy has thus far proved surprisingly robust. And with China and India stepping up Russian oil and gas imports, Putin said the West's sanctions had not had the desired effect.

Putin's yacht, which has recently finished maintenance, was put back into the water at the Port of Marina di Carrara and was ready to set sail for Dubai. It was seized by the Italian authorities on May 6 in relation to the measures taken against the Russian oligarchs in favor of the policy of the President of the Russian Federation Valdimir Putin.
 The yacht is certainly the most expensive (about 700 billion dollars) among the many properties of the Russian oligarchs in Italy.
A superyacht allegedly linked to Putin was seized in Italy as part of sanctions efforts against Russia.

"Those imposing sanctions are punishing themselves – they have caused price hikes, job losses, an energy crisis and we hear them telling their own people that the Russians are to blame," he said. "And we hear them telling their own people that the Russians are to blame... The Russian economy and management system turned out to be much stronger than the West believed."

Shrugging off sanctions and announcing plans for new infrastructure and subsidies in Russia point to the country further decreasing its reliance on the West.

What about China?

As global support for Kyiv continues, the US has raised fears that China will provide military assistance to Russia. China's top foreign policy advisor Wang Yi arrived in Moscow on Tuesday, and is set to meet with Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and, possibly, Putin.

China has thus far insisted it is neutral on the Ukraine conflict, although it has continued trading with its "no limits" partner Russia and participating in joint military exercises, but said at the Munich Security Conference it would shortly release a position on a "political settlement" on the conflict.

The US secretary of state issued a clear warning to Wang in Munich that should China cross the line into providing military assistance to Russia, there would be consequences.

“The concern that we have now is, based on information we have, that they’re considering providing lethal support,” Antony Blinken sad in a CBS interview shortly after the Munich Security Conference. “We’ve made very clear to them that that could cause a serious problem for us and in our relationship.”