In his state of the nation speech, Russian President Vladimir Putin recycled the same lines about his rationale for invading Ukraine nearly one year ago, and he outlined no vision of how the war he launched might end.
But Putin did offer at least one headline, announcing that Russia is suspending its participation in the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty.
Suspending the treaty in some ways continues an uneasy status quo. Under the agreement, the US and Russia are permitted to conduct inspections of each other’s weapons sites to verify compliance, but those inspections had been on hold since 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Putin’s speech, then, was nothing new. In his rambling, one-hour-and-45-minute address, he offered some warmed-over options from a menu of complaints about the West and rehashed the same justifications for his full-scale war on Ukraine.
His address, in fact, was reminiscent of the television speech that aired on February 24, 2022, announcing the start of the invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s so-called “special military operation.” Putin repeated the same baseless claim that Moscow had no choice but to use force against Ukraine. And he doubled down on blaming the West for the conflict.
“I want to repeat: it was they who unleashed the war,” Putin said. “And we used and continue to use force to stop it.”
Such remarks seem intended for a domestic audience that in many ways has seen their sense of normalcy upended. So Putin also played the reassuring wartime leader, holding a moment of silence for soldiers killed in Ukraine, and promising that Russia will set up a special fund to offer assistance to families of veterans and soldiers killed in Ukraine and bolster social benefits for them.
The Russian president also indirectly addressed some of the discontent in the ranks that has filtered back to the Kremlin following a partial mobilization last fall. Mobilization has been beset by morale-sapping logistical difficulties, supply problems and general disorganization, causing major outrage in Russian society. Putin pledged that rotations in Ukraine would be more predictable, and that soldiers would be given much-needed leave.
“Service in the zone of the special military operation – everyone understands this very well – is associated with colossal physical and psychological stress, with everyday risks to health and life,” he said. “Therefore, I consider it necessary to establish for the mobilized, in general for all military personnel, for all participants of the special military operation, including volunteers, regular leave lasting at least 14 days and at least once every six months, excluding travel time, so that each soldier has the opportunity to visit families, to be close to relatives and friends.”
That statement can be interpreted another way: Russians need to settle in for a long war, so soldiers should expect some R&R.