In his address to the Federal Assembly, the Russian President announced the suspension of the START Treaty and the creation of a fund to help those involved in the war in Ukraine. DW on what you need to know about Putin’s speech.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s address to the Federal Assembly on February 21, 2023 lasted about two hours. The most important statement, however, Putin made at the very end. It did not concern Russia’s war against Ukraine or the new wave of mobilization in Russia, as had been suggested the day before, but rather the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). “I am forced to say that Russia is suspending its participation in the Strategic Offensive Arms Treaty. It is not withdrawing, it is suspending,” the Russian president said. The START Treaty is the only major arms control agreement between the US and Russia that is still in force.
On the suspension of the START treaty
Putin justified Moscow’s decision by the fact that “the US and NATO say explicitly that their goal is to inflict a strategic defeat on Russia,” while Washington is allegedly “thinking about the possibility of natural testing of its nuclear weapons, including taking into account the fact that the US is developing new types of nuclear warheads.” Therefore, Putin said, “the Ministry of Defense and Rosatom must ensure readiness to test Russian nuclear weapons.” “We will not be the first to do so, of course. But if the US conducts a test, we will too,” the Russian president stressed.
Putin had repeatedly resorted to nuclear threats before, saying it was “about a retaliatory strike”. Later in Warsaw, US President Joe Biden assured that the West “has no plans to attack or invade Russia”.
On Russia’s war against Ukraine
Putin began his speech by focusing on the situation in Ukraine, while employing narratives often used by Russian propaganda about Kyiv’s alleged “neo-Nazi regime” and anti-Western rhetoric. “They are the ones who started the war. And we used force and we will use force to stop it,” Putin explained the invasion of Ukraine. It follows from his words that Russia is not going to end the war against Ukraine: “We will solve the tasks before us step by step carefully and consistently.” It is noteworthy that the Kremlin has formulated these tasks in different ways since the Russian aggression began.
Putin once again accused Kyiv of escalating the situation in Donbas after the proclamation of the “DPR” and “LPR” and of carrying out strikes on Donetsk and other cities in the region. But he said nothing about the systematic shelling of Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure by Russian troops during the war it unleashed. “We are not at war with the people of Ukraine, the Ukrainian people themselves have become hostages of the Kyiv regime and its Western masters, who have effectively occupied this country politically, militarily, economically,” Putin pointed out. He called the occupation of part of the territories of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, as well as Luhansk and Donetsk regions, “the social and economic restoration of new subjects of the federation”, calling them “Donbass” and “Novorossiya”. Speaking of developing enterprises, creating jobs and “developing the ports of the Sea of Azov”, which he said had once again become “Russia’s inland sea”, Putin made no mention of Ukraine’s Mariupol, which was destroyed almost to the ground, Azovstal, the city’s largest enterprise, and others.
On sanctions and the Russian economy
A significant part of Putin’s address to the Federal Assembly was devoted to Russia’s internal problems, its economic and social situation. The Russian president again sharply criticized sanctions: "The West has deployed not only a military, information, but also an economic front against us. “But, according to Putin, Russia’s economy was stronger than the West thought and Russia was not defeated "on the economic front”. That the sanctions were in response to military aggression against Ukraine, Putin said nothing, nor did he mention how much damage the international sanctions had actually done to Russia. However, he promised to continue “sovereign development” and to take the Russian economy “to new frontiers”.
Speaking of social projects, the Russian president proposed the creation of a special state fund to provide participants in the “special military operation” and their families with social, medical and other assistance. Putin expects that by the end of the year the fund’s structures will be deployed in all regions of the country, and a separate social worker should be assigned to each “veteran”. Where the money to set up the fund will come from, Putin did not say.