Vladimir Putin continues to persuade Russians that the West provoked his imperialist war of aggression against Ukraine. His announcement that he would no longer have the Russian Federation be part of the New START treaty is not only a serious signal to the West, and the whole of humanity, that Russia does not want to exist in a rules-based society, but is yet another indication that Western politicians must understand that Putin does not want and cannot negotiate an end to his war.
It’s essential to understand the context in which Putin declared “a pause” in the only arms control treaty that remained between Moscow and Washington. His announcement came during a speech that was his first to the Russian parliament since the start of the COVID pandemic as last year’s address was cancelled after he ordered the invasion of Ukraine to begin.
A year later, the situation on the battlefield has not gone to plan for the Russian Armed Forces. Expecting to capture Kyiv and topple the Ukrainian government, they met fierce resistance from the Ukrainian people. On the battlefield, Russia’s much-vaunted military has proven to be no match against the combat tactics deployed by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, which are now armed with far superior Western-made weapons.
Because of this, Putin had something to offer to his supporters inside Russia and those who keep him in power. In that sense, the Russian dictator did little else but blame the West for everything that has gone wrong for the Kremlin. This rhetoric obviously has its limits as it should be noted that Putin played the role of an embarrassed child after President Joe Biden’s surprise visit to Kyiv was seen as a major American diplomatic victory and a public relations coup for the Free World.
For Putin, all of this was too much to bear. More importantly, it shattered the imaginary world that he lives in, where his propaganda is the sacred truth, and where every Russian fully accepts what he tells them. More specifically, Biden’s arrival in Kyiv debunked Putin’s most recent myth that the United States had given up its support for Ukraine.
What Putin saw in Biden’s trip to Ukraine was a symbol of Western leaders’ resolve against him. As a result, his announcement that Russia would no longer be part of New START was his way of laying down the dictatorial worldview that he operates under. His speech also included a demand to Russia’s oligarchs that they must bring their vast amounts of money back into the country, a move Putin believes will help alleviate some of the strain that the Russian economy now feels after a year of Western sanctions.
What has also become increasingly evident is that the Russian people, including those who’ve either been mobilized or conscripted into the Russian military, are just another disposable resource for Putin. In that sense, he is no different than his Soviet counterpart, Joseph Stalin; another man who claimed that one death is a tragedy, but millions are just numbers.
With such thinking from their Dear Leader, Russians need to be ready for a long war. When it has finally come to an end, the Russian Federation won’t have gained any of its initial objectives: control over Ukraine’s south and most of the Black sea, total control of Ukraine’s Donbas region, and, of course, the capture of Kyiv and assassination of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Russia may move its major forces to pressure Ukraine’s army in the east and fortify its troops in Crimea, which Ukraine is preparing to take back.
What’s paramount in all of this, regardless that he will never make a public declaration acknowledging the fact, is that Putin’s decision to pull out of New START is a slap in the face to the international community and global peace as a whole. The treaty is a critical guarantor of US-Russia bilateral inspections of the two sides’ strategic nuclear arsenals. But Putin’s decision to quit New START does come after he’s repeatedly hinted at the possibility of using nuclear weapons if his military continues to be defeated on the battlefield.
Former US Special Representative on Ukraine negotiations, Kurt Volker has rightly pointed out that urgency must replace complacency with regard to the West’s aid policies to Ukraine, including long-range precision missiles and advanced F-16 fighter jets. These will be needed to liberate areas of Ukraine that remain under Russian occupation.
Only the unconditional and complete military defeat of the Russian Federation will prove that Western resolve will always triumph. That includes support for Ukraine for as long as it takes.