What does Putin plan to do next? What he said in speech today
The Russian president has announced the country's temporary withdrawal from a landmark nuclear arms treaty and blamed the West for the ongoing conflict in Ukraine
What has happened? Almost a year to the day since he invaded Ukraine, Russian president Vladimir Putin slammed the West for igniting the conflict, using his annual State of the Nation address to reiterate his commitment to the war.
Among the extensive grievances with the West that he listed during his almost two-hour-long speech was his belief that figures in Washington were considering resuming nuclear testing, ongoing sanctions over Ukraine, and so-called "aggressive information attacks" on Russian cultural values.
Putin also used the address to announce Russia would suspend its membership of the New Start nuclear arms treaty, and to insist that Russia's fight was not with Ukrainians who had become "hostages of the Kyiv regime".
Read more: Russia-Ukraine war at a glance: what we know on day 363 of the invasion (The Guardian, 6-min read)
Read on to find out what Putin's address suggests he will do next...
Putin suspends nuclear New START Treaty with US
The key takeaway from Putin's speech in terms of future engagement with the West is his decision to suspend Russia's participation in the strategic offensive arms treaty.
Although he did not confirm a permanent withdrawal from the landmark treaty signed by then-US president Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in 2010, Putin's announcement is a stark warning about the country's nuclear capabilities.
Russia and the US, which between them account for 90% of the world's nuclear firepower, are restricted to 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads each by the treaty. However, Putin asserted, without providing evidence, that some actors in Washington were mulling further nuclear testing — and said he wanted to be able to respond in kind.
"Of course, we will not do this 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 on putting new ground-based strategic systems on combat duty. Are they going to stick their nose in there too, or what?"
The treaty was due to expire in 2026. NATO immediately encouraged Putin to reconsider his decision following the address.
Read more: Factbox-What is the New START nuclear arms treaty? (Reuters, 4-min read)
Russia to continue offensive in Ukraine
Putin's speech left little doubt that Russia will continue its attacks on Ukraine — indeed, during the president's address, Russian forces fired around 20 rockets into the southern city of Kherson, leaving six dead and at least 12 others injured, Ukraine said.
"The Russian army is heavily shelling Kherson. Again mercilessly killing the civilian population," Reuters reported Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelenskyy writing on the Telegram messaging app.
The Russian president blamed the West for escalating the ongoing conflict, commenting in his address: "The elites of the West do not hide their purpose... That is, 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. But they also cannot fail to realise that it is impossible to defeat Russia on the battlefield. Therefore, they are conducting more and more aggressive information attacks against us."
Among those "information attacks" described by Putin were the alleged censure of Russian culture and religion; providing an opportunity for the president to once again highlight his deeply conservative attitude on homosexuality that has seen an increase in Russia's anti-LGBTQ laws.
Putin also pushed back on the West's supply of weapons to Ukraine, issuing a threat about Russian expansion. "The more long-range Western systems are supplied to Ukraine, the further we will be forced to move the threat away from our borders. It's natural," he said.
Read more: Defiant and regretful Putin prepares Russia for a long war (The Telegraph, 2-min read)
Russia will reduce reliance on West
Putin's speech suggested the West's intention to damage Russia with sanctions had failed: "Many basic civilian sectors of the domestic economy not only have not shrunk but have actually increased production," he said
While the country's GDP did suffer in 2022, with balanced forecasts putting contracting at 3.3–3.4 percent, according to The Economist, the Russian economy has thus far proved surprisingly robust. And with China and India stepping up Russian oil and gas imports, Putin said the West's sanctions had not had the desired effect.
"Those imposing sanctions are punishing themselves – they have caused price hikes, job losses, an energy crisis and we hear them telling their own people that the Russians are to blame," he said. "And we hear them telling their own people that the Russians are to blame... The Russian economy and management system turned out to be much stronger than the West believed."
Shrugging off sanctions and announcing plans for new infrastructure and subsidies in Russia point to the country further decreasing its reliance on the West.
What about China?
As global support for Kyiv continues, the US has raised fears that China will provide military assistance to Russia. China's top foreign policy advisor Wang Yi arrived in Moscow on Tuesday, and is set to meet with Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and, possibly, Putin.
China has thus far insisted it is neutral on the Ukraine conflict, although it has continued trading with its "no limits" partner Russia and participating in joint military exercises, but said at the Munich Security Conference it would shortly release a position on a "political settlement" on the conflict.
The US secretary of state issued a clear warning to Wang in Munich that should China cross the line into providing military assistance to Russia, there would be consequences.
“The concern that we have now is, based on information we have, that they’re considering providing lethal support,” Antony Blinken sad in a CBS interview shortly after the Munich Security Conference. “We’ve made very clear to them that that could cause a serious problem for us and in our relationship.”
Read more: Explainer-A year into Ukraine war, how has China stood by 'no limits' partner Russia? (Reuters, 4-min read)