Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday doubled down on his condemnation of the West, blaming it for the war in Ukraine while denying Russian responsibility for a brutal conflict fast approaching its first anniversary that has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of people.
In a national address before Russian lawmakers that lasted nearly two hours, Mr. Putin excoriated NATO countries and the U.S. He claimed the West has manipulated events in Ukraine going back to the 2014 protests that resulted in the ouster of pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych.
“That was a bloody, anti-state and unconstitutional coup. They pretended that nothing happened and that this is how things should be,” Mr. Putin said. “Russophobia and extremely aggressive nationalism formed its ideological foundation.”
Moscow launched its “special military operation” in Ukraine, said Mr. Putin, to protect ethnic Russians living in the disputed Donbas territory and to ensure Russian territorial security. Failing to note that Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy is Jewish and has family members who were killed in the Holocaust, Mr. Putin also reiterated his baseless claim that neo-Nazis are running the government in Kyiv.
“They were the ones who started this war, while we used force and are using it to stop the war,” Mr. Putin said.
He said the pro-Moscow residents in the disputed Donbas region have been fighting for the right to live on their land and to speak Russian since 2014.
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“It fought and never gave up amid the blockade, constant shelling, and the Kyiv’s regime overt hatred. It hoped and waited that Russia would come to help,” Mr. Putin said.
According to Mr. Putin, the Russian government did everything possible to peacefully solve its dispute with Ukraine and find a diplomatic solution.
“But, behind our backs, a very different scenario was being prepared,” he said. “They (the West) were just playing for time, closing their eyes to political assassinations (and) mistreatment of believers.”
Mr. Putin also used the address to announce that Russia is suspending any participation in the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty, the last remaining arms agreement between Moscow and Washington. It was the only policy change announced during the Russian president’s marathon speech.
The Russian president said the Kremlin is suspending its participation in New START but not withdrawing from the agreement. It was extended for five years in 2021. Russia and the U.S. are allowed to check each other’s weapons sites, but inspections have been on hold since 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr. Putin again complained that extending NATO status to former members of the Cold War-era Warsaw Pact, such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia, is a threat to Russian security.
“In December 2021, we officially submitted draft agreements on security guarantees to the USA and NATO. In essence, all key fundamental points were rejected,” he said. “After that, it finally became clear that the go-ahead for the implementation of aggressive plans had been given and they were not going to stop.”