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Russian President Vladimir Putin used the occasion of a 21 February 2023 State of the Nation address, just three days prior to the first anniversary of his invasion of Ukraine, to announce that Russia was suspending its participation in the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

In his two-hour address to Russia’s national assembly, delivered at the Gostiny Dvor building near Red Square in Moscow, Putin blamed the Western powers not just for the Ukraine conflict but for acting “just as shamelessly and duplicitously when destroying Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya, and Syria”. Regarding the Ukraine conflict specifically Putin claimed that it was a project that “is not new. … The Austro-Hungarian Empire and Poland had conceived it for one purpose, that is, to deprive Russia of these historical territories that are now called Ukraine. This is their goal. There is nothing new here; they are repeating everything.”

Declaring it “unacceptable that the United States is rebuilding the world order exclusively for itself”, Putin said, “I have to say today that Russia is suspending its participation in New START. I repeat, not withdrawing from the treaty, no, but merely suspending its participation.”

He also added that Russia “must be prepared to test new types of weapons if the US does. … No one should be under the illusion that global nuclear parity can be destroyed.”

New START, which was signed by US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on 8 April 2010 and entered force on 5 February 2011, was the sole remaining nuclear arms control agreement between the two countries. Extended in 2021 but due to expire in 2026, the treaty limited the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550; the number of deployed and non-deployed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launchers, submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) launchers and strategic bombers to 800, and the number of deployed ICBMs, SLBMs and strategic bombers to 700.

Washington had already claimed Russia was non-compliant under New START for refusing to allow inspections of its nuclear facilities under the terms of the treaty. Putin responded in his speech that, in the context of Western support for Ukraine, “This is a theatre of the absurd”, adding, “The West is directly involved in the attempts of the Kyiv regime to strike at our strategic aviation. And now they also want to inspect our defence facilities. This sounds like bullsh*t.”

The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, originally signed by the United States and the Soviet Union on 8 December 1987 and ratified on 1 June 1988, was suspended by the United States on 1 February 2019 and Russia the day after amid arguments over Russian non-compliance and redundancy, given that the treaty did not include China.

The Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, signed by the United States and the Soviet Union on 26 May 1972, ended in June 2002 when the United States withdrew from it, arguing that the treaty prevented the creation of effective missile defences and left Washington potentially open to nuclear blackmail by a rogue state.

Peter Felstead