Putin suspends nuclear arms treaty as US-Russia tensions build amid Ukraine war anniversary

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Tensions between the U.S. and the Kremlin ratcheted up Tuesday ahead of the one-year anniversary of Russia's war in Ukraine as Vladimir Putin vowed to pull Russia back from a key nuclear treaty and President Joe Biden reaffirmed the U.S. and its allies won't back down.

Putin's move came on the heels of a surprise and historic visit by Biden to Kyiv on Monday. In a nearly two-hour speech to both houses of the Russian Parliament, Putin said he was suspending Moscow's participation in New START, a strategic nuclear arms reduction treaty between the U.S. and Russia.

Putin said he was taking action because of the U.S. and NATO, without specifying more. "In this regard, I am forced to announce today that Russia is suspending its participation in the strategic offensive arms treaty," he said.

Less than 800 miles away, Biden followed with his own speech in Warsaw.

He said Putin thought Ukraine would "roll over" when he invaded with tanks a year ago, but "he was wrong" because of the bravery of Ukrainians and "iron will" of nations everywhere that have come to Ukraine's aid.

"One year ago, the world was bracing for the fall of Kyiv," Biden said. "Well, I just came from visiting Kyiv, and I can report, Kyiv stands strong. Kyiv stands proud. It stands tall. And most importantly, it stands free."

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual state of the nation address, in Moscow on Feb. 21, 2023.
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual state of the nation address, in Moscow on Feb. 21, 2023.

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New START is the last remaining nuclear arms reduction deal between the U.S. and Russia. It was signed in 2010 and extended for five years in 2021. It limits each side to 1,550 long-range nuclear warheads.

"Over the last (few) years Russia has violated and walked away from key arms control agreements. With today's decision on New START the whole arms control architecture has been dismantled," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken described Putin's move as "deeply unfortunate and irresponsible. We’ll be watching carefully to see what Russia actually does."

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Although Biden did not directly address Putin's pledge on the nuclear treaty, he said "autocrats" like Putin have gotten weaker over the past year as democracies have strengthened in solidarity with Ukraine.

"A dictator bent on building an empire will never be able to e the people's love of liberty," Biden said.

Biden also addressed the Russian people, telling them the U.S. and allies "do not seek to control or destroy Russia" and pushing back at Putin’s claim that the West is plotting to attack Russia. He said the Russian people "are not the enemies."

Directing his comments to Poland and other NATO allies, Biden said Putin "no longer doubts the strength of our coalition," but said he "still doubts our conviction” and “staying power.”

He declared: “Ukraine will not waver. NATO will not be divided. And we will not tire."

As he has done many times before, Putin blamed the West for provoking the war, accusing the U.S. and its European allies of wanting to acquire "limitless power."

He said Ukraine's allies were "playing a dirty game," that NATO members were openly talking about supplying Ukraine with nuclear weapons – they aren't  – and that the entire planet was "dotted" with U.S. military bases.

Putin claimed that Western economic sanctions on Russia were not working, that Russian farmers just had a "record" grain harvest – Russia has stolen Ukraine's grain over the past year – and that he plans to bolster Russia's diplomatic and economic ties to India, Iran and other countries in the Middle East.

Large parts of his speech were focused on domestic policies connected to infrastructure spending and financial reforms. He praised Russian soldiers and said he would "systematically" continue with the Ukraine invasion he ordered a year ago. He did not unveil any new military objectives connected to Ukraine.

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Putin ruled out Russia making a first nuclear strike in Ukraine and said Russia would conduct nuclear tests only if the U.S. did so first.

Biden said Russian forces have committed "crimes against humanity without shame or compunction," pointing to the targeting of civilians, the kidnapping of children, "rape as a weapon of war" and bombings of maternal hospitals, schools and orphanages. "It's abhorrent," Biden said, promising Russia will be held accountable.

During Biden's unannounced visit to Warsaw on Monday, Biden met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and reiterated American commitment to supplying the country with aid and weapons for the long term.

"Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia, never," Biden said in Warsaw.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Putin blames West for Ukraine war, suspends nuclear arms treaty