- Putin and Biden delivered starkly different speeches as the Ukraine war approaches the one-year mark.
- Biden touted Ukraine’s resilience and framed the war as a fight for freedom and democracy.
- Meanwhile, Putin reiterated false claims about Ukraine being led by neo-Nazis.
US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered starkly different addresses on Tuesday as the war in Ukraine approaches the one-year mark, highlighting how far apart the two world leaders are on the largest military conflict in Europe since World War II.
Biden touted Kyiv’s resilience in the face of an unprovoked Russian invasion just hours after Putin ranted about neo-Nazis and suggested Moscow would abandon a key nuclear arms control treaty.
Speaking from Warsaw just a day after a historic surprise visit to the Ukrainian capital, Biden said: “One year ago, the world was bracing for the fall of Kyiv. Well, I’ve just come from a visit to Kyiv, and I can report Kyiv stands strong.”
Biden excoriated Putin over the invasion, denouncing him as an “autocrat” and “dictator” on a doomed quest to rebuild an empire.
The US president portrayed the fight in Ukraine as a battle for democracy and freedom, slamming Russia for committing “crimes against humanity.” He also underlined the ways in which the war has pushed NATO members closer together and bolstered the alliance with the impending additions of Finland and Sweden — two historically neutral countries that moved to join only after the Russian invasion.
—Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 21, 2023
Earlier in the day, during his annual state of the nation address, Putin blamed the West for his decision to launch a full-scale military assault against Ukraine last February. In the process, he reiterated the false claim that Ukraine is led by a “neo-Nazi regime.” Putin made frequent references to Nazis throughout his remarks, likening the Ukrainian military to the forces of Nazi Germany. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is Jewish and lost his family during the Holocaust.
“Responsibility for inciting and escalating the Ukraine conflict, as well as the sheer number of casualties, lies entirely with the Western elites,” Putin said, accusing the West of using Ukraine as a “battering ram” against Moscow. Although Putin has often pointed the finger at NATO over the war, Ukraine is not a member of the alliance, and there are no NATO troops fighting on its behalf.
Putin has repeatedly made nuclear threats since the Ukraine war began, and he built on this trend on Tuesday by stating that Russia would suspend its participation in the New START Treaty.
New START, signed in the Obama era, places limits on the number of long-range nuclear weapons that can be deployed by both countries. Russia and the US collectively possess roughly 90% of the world’s nuclear arsenal, and New START is the last remaining nuclear treaty between Moscow and Washington.
During his speech, Biden countered Putin by directly addressing the Russian people and emphasizing that the Russian leader could end the war in Ukraine “with a word.”
“The US and the nations of Europe do not seek to control or destroy Russia. The West was not plotting to attack Russia, as Putin said,” Biden explained, adding that the war in Ukraine was never a “necessity” but rather a product. of a tragic decision made by his Russian counterpart.
The war in Ukraine has gone poorly for Russia, which is estimated to have suffered around 200,000 casualties since the invasion began on February 24, 2022. Russia failed in its initial goal of conquering Kyiv and turned its attention to the Donbas region in the east, but it has failed to secure its objectives there as well.
Putin has taken a number of escalatory steps throughout the war, announcing a partial military mobilization and annexing four Ukrainian regions in September. Russian forces do not fully occupy these regions, although Putin now claims them as part of Russia. The fight has morphed into a grinding war of attrition, with heavy losses on both sides and few territorial gains. But with the help of Western-supplied weapons, Ukraine has regained control of a significant chunk of territory.
The war is not expected to end anytime soon, which Biden acknowledged on Tuesday. The US president said there would be “hard and bitter days” ahead, but he added that Washington and its allies would continue to “have Ukraine’s back.”