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Russia has suspended its participation in the New START treaty, said Russian dictator Vladimir Putin in a speech to the Federal Assembly and members of the Russian political elite on Feb. 21.
The nuclear arms reduction treaty between the U.S. and Russia was signed in 2010 in Prague. The treaty limits the size and composition of the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. It is the only remaining arms control agreement between both countries.
Putin said that Russia would not allow the U.S. or NATO countries to inspect its nuclear arsenal, adding that a week ago he signed a decree putting new strategic ground-based systems of nuclear missiles on combat duty. He also said that Russia is prepared to test nuclear weapons if the U.S. does so first.
The statement is a recent in a series of nuclear threats that Russia has made since the beginning of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Putin also threatened that, "the more long-range Western systems will come to Ukraine, the further we will be forced to move the threat away from our borders."
Ukraine has been asking the West to provide it with long-range missile systems to be able to hit Russian military targets deep behind the front line. The West has so far been reluctant about supplying such weapons, fearing that Ukraine would attack Russian territory.
Putin said in his speech that "the goal of the West is to inflict a strategic defeat on Russia, to end us once and for all. We will respond accordingly because we are talking about the existence of our country."
He also added that Russia is mass-producing artillery weapons at an "increasing" pace.
The speech pivoted between international and domestic issues. Putin accused the West of launching an economic war against Russia but claimed "it will not succeed anywhere" and that Russia's GDP fell by only 2.1% last year.
Furthermore, he declared that Russia has not had to seek economic aid from its allies despite the Western sanctions.
Despite Putin's posturing, it appears that the state of the Russian economy remains a high concern. Putin added that while defense is the "highest priority", the Russian economy must be protected. "We have everything to ensure security and create conditions for the sustainable development of the country."
In an especially cynical turn, Putin promised the "restoration" of occupied Ukrainian territories. Russia has been relentlessly attacking Ukrainian cities since Feb. 24, razing some, such as Mariupol and Volnovakha, to the ground. He also said that the Ukrainian ports of the Azov and Black Seas which are currently under Russian occupation would "continue to be redeveloped."
Putin praised the Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine, saying that he wanted to "bow down" to the relatives of soldiers and those engaged in the war effort. He added that soldiers would have a "regular vacation of at least 14 days at least once every six months," excluding travel time.
According to the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces, Russia has lost more than 144,000 soldiers in Ukraine as of Feb. 21. Many reports have previously indicated that Russia is throwing its soldiers into "suicide missions" to achieve its military goals.
Putin claimed that Russia plans to make strides and gains in the modernization of its infrastructure, especially in the east, to promote economic growth.
He added that Russians could take out loans worth up to 500 million rubles ($6.7 million) with 3-4% interest to build property for businesses.
Much of his speech also regurgitated the talking points he has used for the past year to justify his country's genocidal war in Ukraine.
None of Putin's talking points explicitly pointed to "victory" in Ukraine. He stressed that the war is a "great burden" for Russia.
Despite Russia's failure to reach its goal of taking full control of Ukraine and the huge troop losses, Russia has recently launched a renewed offensive in eastern Ukraine and its forces are suffering heavy casualties. Western officials have referred to the new Russian offensive as "more aspirational than realistic."
In his speech, Putin declared that Russia is "not at war" with the Ukrainian people but rather "the Kyiv regime" that has the backing of the West.
However, numerous reports of torture emerging from the occupied territories, as well as continous missile and drone attacks targeting civilian infrastructure, point to the genocidal intent of Russia's war in Ukraine. Russian torture chambers have been found in territories liberated by Ukrainian forces. In Kherson Oblast alone, thousands of Ukrainians were put through physical and mental abuse in such facilities, according to Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets.
According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), a total of 18,955 civilian casualties in Ukraine, including 7,199 killed and 11,756 injured, have been confirmed as of Feb. 13. The OHCHR reported that the majority of civilian casualties caused by Russian attacks were in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. These oblasts are home to the very people which Russia claims they are trying to “save.” However, the actual number of casualties may be significantly higher as data from the occupied territories and the areas with heavy hostilities is currently unavailable.
Recent numbers from Ukraine's Prosecutor General's Office reveal that Russia's war in Ukraine has claimed the lives of at least 461 children, with 924 injured since the start of the full-scale invasion on Feb. 24.