TALLINN, Estonia — Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview broadcast Sunday that Russia has no choice but to take into account NATO’s nuclear capabilities, in remarks justifying Russia’s recent suspension of its participation in the New START treaty.
As he has done repeatedly during the Ukraine war, Putin claimed that Russia faces an existential threat because, in his view, NATO members are seeking the country’s “strategic defeat.” He said on Russian state TV that the suspension of New START stemmed from the need to “ensure security, strategic stability” for Russia.
“When all the leading NATO countries have declared their main goal as inflicting a strategic defeat on us (...) how can we ignore their nuclear capabilities in these conditions?” Putin said.
Putin’s overarching goal in invading Ukraine a year ago was to reduce what he perceived as threats to Russia’s security, and at times he has used that as justification for threats to use nuclear weapons in the conflict.
Putin declared Tuesday that Moscow was suspending its participation in the 2010 New START treaty, saying that Russia can’t accept U.S. inspections of its nuclear sites under the pact while Washington and its NATO allies seek Russia’s defeat in Ukraine. The Russian president emphasized that Moscow was not withdrawing from the pact altogether, and the Russian Foreign Ministry said the country would respect the treaty’s caps on nuclear weapons and keep notifying the U.S. about test launches of ballistic missiles.
In the interview with Russia 1 television broadcast Sunday — two days after the one-year anniversary of the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine — Putin said that while NATO countries are not party to the treaty, they became part of the “discussions on the issue,” which Moscow doesn’t object to, especially since it can’t ignore NATO’s nuclear capabilities.
Putin alleged that the West wants to eliminate Russia, a notion that he has repeatedly used to justify Russian aggression in Ukraine. “They have one goal: to disband the former Soviet Union and its fundamental part — the Russian Federation,” Putin said.
If the West succeeds in destroying Russia and establishing control, he claimed, the Russian people may not survive as a unified nation. “There will be Muscovites, Uralians and others,” he said of Russia’s possible fragmentation. The West could only partly accept Russia into the so-called “family of civilized peoples,” breaking the country into separate pieces, he theorized.
U.S. President Joe Biden countered Putin’s claims in a speech in Poland on Tuesday.
“The United States and the nations of Europe do not seek to control or destroy Russia. The West was not plotting to attack Russia, as Putin said today. And millions of Russian citizens who only want to live in peace with their neighbors are not the enemy,” he said during the speech in the Polish capital, Warsaw.