Putin Doubles Down On Nuclear Threat…or Not? – Russian President Vladimir Putin escalated tensions with the U.S. on Tuesday in an angry state-of-the-nation address, announcing that Moscow will suspend participating in the New START treaty, an agreement signed in 2010 by then-presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev.
The treaty, designed to prevent a nuclear conflict, requires the two parties to limit the quantity of strategic nuclear warheads.
The agreement also allowed Russian inspectors to inspect the United States’ nuclear warheads and vice versa, which means Putin’s Tuesday announcement could theoretically allow Russia to increase its nuclear arsenal beyond the 1,550 long-range nuclear warheads allowed under the treaty.
Interestingly, however, the Russian president promised not to exceed those pre-agreed limits and said Russia would still continue to provide the United States with information about ballistic missile test launches.
The speech, therefore, allowed the Russian president to threaten NATO with nuclear saber-rattling while at the same time promising to abide by much of the terms of the agreement that he said Russia will suspend.
Previous threats of nuclear conflict from the Kremlin have been walked back by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov himself, and even by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs – but Putin’s threat on Tuesday appeared to be walked back in the very same speech.
Putin is both threatening to make it difficult for the United States to know just how many nuclear warheads Russia keeps in its arsenal while also promising to abide by the rules of the soon-to-be-dissolved agreement.
In the same speech, Putin also repeated his claim that his intention is not to destroy Ukraine, but to defend the Russian people.
“We aren’t fighting the Ukrainian people,” Putin said. “The Ukrainian people have become hostages of the Kyiv regime and its Western masters, which have effectively occupied the country.”
New START Suspension: Was He Planning More?
Putin’s comments, undoubtedly a response to the new-found willingness of European countries to supply advanced tanks, long-range missile, and potentially even fighter jets to Ukraine, also came a day after U.S. officials revealed that Russia carried out a test of an intercontinental ballistic missile. The test launch of the notorious “Satan II” SARMAT missile reportedly failed.
Two U.S. officials familiar with the matter told CNN that Russia notified the United States in advance of the launch, which suggests Putin’s comments on Tuesday were honest.
According to the same officials, Putin may have strategically planned the launch to take place a day before his speech and originally planned to highlight the test in his Tuesday address.
Putin, however, made no reference to the launch in his 45-minute speech.
MORE: B-21 Raider: China Should Fear America’s New Stealth Bomber
MORE: H-20: China Is Building a New Stealth Bomber
MORE: Is Russia’s Su-57 Felon Stealth Fighter a Total Bust?
Jack Buckby is 19FortyFive’s Breaking News Editor. He is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.