Putin delivers nuclear warning to West over Ukraine
By Guy Faulconbridge and Vladimir Soldierkin
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday issued a nuclear warning to the West about Ukraine, suspended a landmark nuclear arms control treaty, announced that new strategic systems had been deployed and warned that that Moscow could resume nuclear testing.
Almost a year to the day after ordering an invasion that has sparked the biggest confrontation with the West since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, Putin said Russia will achieve its war goals and accused the West of destroying Russia.
“The elites of the West do not hide their aim. But they must also recognize that defeating Russia on the battlefield is impossible,” a defiant Putin told his country’s political and military elite.
Putin warned the United States that it would foment the war into a global conflict and said Russia was suspending participation in the New START treaty, the last major arms control treaty between Moscow and Washington.
The treaty, signed in 2010 by then-US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev, limits the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads that the United States and Russia can deploy. It should expire in 2026.
“I am forced to announce today that Russia is suspending its participation in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty,” Putin said.
The Russian leader said, without providing evidence, that some people in Washington are considering resuming nuclear testing. Russia’s defense ministry and nuclear company should therefore stand ready to test Russian nuclear weapons if the need arises, he said.
“Of course we won’t do that 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 to put new ground-based strategic systems into combat use. Are they sticking their noses in there, too, or what?”
It was not immediately clear which ground-based systems had been put into combat use. Putin said Ukraine was attempting to attack a facility deep in Russia where some of its nuclear bombers are based, a reference to Engels Air Force Base.
Russia and the United States have vast Cold War nuclear arsenals and remain by far the largest nuclear powers. Together they hold 90% of the world’s nuclear warheads.
The new START treaty limited both sides to 1,550 warheads on deployed ICBMs, submarine ballistic missiles and heavy bombers. Both sides reached the central borders by 2018.
In essence, Putin is warning that if the West doesn’t back down in Ukraine, he can dismantle the nuclear arms control architecture – including the major powers’ moratorium on nuclear tests.
China, whose top diplomat Wang Yi arrived in Moscow on Tuesday, has warned of a nuclear escalation in the Ukraine war.
The Ukraine conflict is by far the biggest bet by a Kremlin boss since at least the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 – and a gamble Western leaders like US President Joe Biden, who visited Kiev on Monday, say he must lose.
Russian forces have suffered three major turns on the battlefield since the start of the war, but still control about a fifth of Ukraine. Tens of thousands of men were killed on both sides.
Speaking for an hour and 45 minutes under a large emblem featuring Russia’s two-headed eagle and flanked by a total of eight tricolor Russian flags, Putin vowed to keep going until he achieved his goals in Ukraine.
Putin accused the US-led NATO alliance of fueling the conflict in the mistaken belief that it could defeat Moscow in a global confrontation.
“They intend to turn a local conflict into a phase of global confrontation. This is exactly how we understand all this and we will react accordingly, because in this case we are talking about the existence of our country,” Putin said.
The United States is concerned Beijing may consider supplying arms to Russia, a move that could escalate the Ukraine war into a confrontation between Russia and China on the one hand and Ukraine and the US-led NATO military alliance on the other hand would risk the other.
Along with promising to continue the war and warnings to the West of a global confrontation, Putin also tried to justify the war, saying it was forced on Russia and that he understands the pain felt by the families of those who died.
The West and Ukraine reject this narrative, saying NATO’s eastward expansion since the end of the Cold War does not justify what they call a doomed imperial-style land grab.
“The Ukrainian people have become hostage to the Kiev regime and its Western overlords, who have effectively occupied this country in the political, military and economic sense,” Putin said.
“They intend to turn a local conflict into a phase of global confrontation. That’s exactly how we understand all this and we will react accordingly, because in this case we are talking about the existence of our country.”
Russia will never give in to Western attempts to divide its society, the 70-year-old Kremlin chief said, adding that a majority of Russians support the war.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Nick Macfie)