Feb. 21 (UPI) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his nation would halt its participation in the New START nuclear reduction treaty with the United States in his state of the nation address Tuesday in Moscow while accusing America and its allies of escalating the war in Ukraine.
Putin said that Russia was not fully withdrawing from the treaty, but suspending its participation in the agreement that limited the number of nuclear warheads the nations could hold.
"No one should be under the illusion that global strategic parity can be violated," Putin said.
Russia and the United States had signed a five-year extension of the treaty in 2021, but the United States has not conducted inspections of Russia's nuclear armament since they were suspended in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On-site inspections were supposed to resume in August but the Kremlin halted them again, citing U.S. support for Ukraine before tabling negotiations on the treaty in November.
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Giving his speech in front of Russia's Federal Assembly, Putin described Ukraine as "historically Russian lands," accusing Ukraie's allies in the West of looking to take the Donbas -- which comprises the Luhansk and Donetsk regions in eastern Ukraine -- away from the people.
"The elite of the West does not conceal their ambitions, which is to strategically defeat Russia," Putin said in his speech. "What does that mean? It means to finish yourself once and for all."
"They do that by making local conflicts into much wider and bigger ones."
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Putin repeated claims that Russia was forced into the invasion of Ukraine to defend its own country and that the Kremlin did "everything possible" to prevent it. He blamed the West for turning away from "terrorist activities" in eastern Ukraine against its supporters.
"I want to repeat: it was they who unleashed the war," Putin said. "And we used and continue to use force to stop it."
Tuesday's address comes one day after U.S. President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian President Volomydyr Zelensky and pledge additional support for Ukraine.
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During the speech, Putin accused the Kyiv government under Zelensky of being under the protection of "Western masters" and not serving the interest of its citizens.
"The Kyiv regime and their Western masters have completely taken over the economy of the country," Putin said. "They have destroyed the Ukrainian industry and economy. They're responsible for the escalation of the situation in Ukraine ... for the huge numbers of casualties."