Em um furioso discurso sobre o estado da nação, o líder russo diz que vai desistir de um tratado nuclear e culpa a Ucrânia pela invasão que iniciou.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a combative state-of-the-nation speech, blaming the West for the war in Ukraine ahead of the first anniversary of the invasion he ordered.
Putin spoke on Tuesday in front of a crowd of 1,400 people in Moscow, addressing members of both houses of parliament, military commanders and soldiers while video screens were also put up in large cities across the country.
Besides warning the West of a global confrontation, Putin sought to justify the invasion, saying it had been forced on Russia and he understood the pain of the families of those who had fallen in battle.
He also said Russia would suspend participation in the New START treaty, the last major pillar of post-Cold War nuclear arms control between Moscow and Washington, which limits their strategic nuclear arsenals.
Putin said Russia needed to be ready to test nuclear weapons if the United States moves to do so itself.
Almost immediately, global powers urged Moscow against withdrawing from the treaty.
“The announcement by Russia that it’s suspending participation is deeply unfortunate and irresponsible,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“We’ll be watching carefully to see what Russia actually does. We’ll of course make sure that in any event, we are postured appropriately for the security of our own country and that of our allies.”
The New START treaty, which was signed in Prague in 2010, caps the number of strategic nuclear warheads Russia and the US may deploy, It also caps the number of deployment of land- and submarine-based missiles and bombers to deliver the warheads.
Russia has the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world, with close to 6,000 warheads, according to experts. Together, Russia and the US hold about 90 percent of the world’s nuclear warheads – enough to destroy the planet many times over.
In 2021, New START was extended for five more years after US President Joe Biden took office.
Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from Brussels, says arms negotiation has been more difficult in recent years due to tensions between Moscow and the West.
“NATO allies say that Russia wasn’t really complying with New START anyway,” he said. “But it is interesting that Putin has decided to suspend participation in this treaty, … and I think probably that’s for international consumption at this stage.
“I think there was an element of this speech that was aimed at the international community because although Europe seems to be very much on the same page with the US in terms of support for Ukraine, beyond Europe … when it comes to the issue of when should the war stop and when should there be negotiations, many believe a ceasefire should come soon, if not now.
“That is the difference that Putin was potentially trying to exploit in his speech.”
In his wide-ranging and angry speech, Putin also condemned same-sex marriage and cast the government in Kyiv as taking the Ukrainian people “hostage” for failing to address their needs.
“I would like to repeat, they started the war, and we used force in order to stop it,” Putin said, insisting Moscow had tried to settle the conflict in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, which had been simmering since early 2014, by peaceful means but was eventually forced to take further action.
“We were doing everything possible to solve this problem peacefully, negotiating a peaceful way out of this difficult conflict, but behind our backs, a very different scenario was being prepared,” the Russian leader said.
The West and aspiring NATO and European Union member Ukraine strongly reject that narrative and say NATO’s expansion eastwards after the Cold War is no justification for what they say is an imperial-style land grab doomed to failure.
“The people of Ukraine have become the hostage of the Kyiv regime and its Western overlords, who have effectively occupied this country in the political, military and economic sense,” Putin said.
“They intend to transform a local conflict into a phase of global confrontation. This is exactly how we understand it all, and we will react accordingly because in this case, we are talking about the existence of our country.”
Putin claims Russia is locked in an existential battle with the West, which, he says, wants to carve up Russia and steal its vast natural resources.
“The Western elite does not conceal their goal, which is to inflict a strategic defeat on Russia,” the president said. “It means to finish us forever.”
The 70-year-old Kremlin chief said Russia would never yield to Western attempts to divide its society, adding that a majority of Russians support the war.
Polling by the Levada Centre indicates abound 75 percent of Russians back Russian actions in Ukraine while 19 percent do not and 6 percent do not know. Three-quarters of Russians expect their country to be victorious.
But many diplomats and analysts doubt the figures.
Marwan Kabalan, um acadêmico e escritor, disse à Al Jazeera que o discurso de Putin visava apaziguar os russos porque Moscou não alcançou seus objetivos militares na Ucrânia.
“Ele subestimou o poder das forças armadas da Ucrânia” e o apoio ocidental, bem como a “vontade dos europeus” de se livrarem do abastecimento de energia russo, disse Kabalan.
“Ele não pode contar ao povo da Rússia nenhuma boa notícia sobre isso”, disse ele. “Essa operação especial, como ele chama, já dura quase um ano e os objetivos não foram alcançados.”
As forças russas sofreram três reveses significativos no campo de batalha desde o início da guerra, mas ainda controlam um quinto da Ucrânia.
Enquanto isso, uma rivalidade dentro de partes da elite militar da Rússia parece estar aumentando, com Yevgeny Prigozhin, chefe da força mercenária privada do Grupo Wagner, criticando oficiais militares russos por privar seus combatentes de munições.
Reações ao discurso de Putin
Um importante funcionário dos EUA denunciou as alegações no discurso de Putin.
“Ninguém está atacando a Rússia”, disse o conselheiro de segurança nacional da Casa Branca, Jake Sullivan, a repórteres. “Há uma espécie de absurdo na noção de que a Rússia estava sob algum tipo de ameaça militar da Ucrânia ou de qualquer outra pessoa.”
Mykhailo Podolyak, conselheiro sênior do presidente da Ucrânia, disse que o discurso de Putin demonstrou sua “irrelevância e confusão”.
“Ele enfatizou que o RF [the Russian Federation] está em ‘impasse taiga’, não tem soluções promissoras e não terá nenhuma. Porque em todos os lugares existem ‘nazistas, marcianos e teorias da conspiração’”, tuitou Podolyak.
A primeira-ministra italiana, Giorgia Meloni, chamou o discurso de “propaganda” e disse esperar algo mais construtivo.
“Uma parte do meu coração esperava por algumas palavras diferentes, por um passo à frente. Era propaganda”, disse Meloni durante visita à cidade ucraniana de Irpin.