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Putin addresses his nation as Russia's invasion of Ukraine nears the 1-year mark

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed a joint session of Russia's parliament in a closely watched State of the Union-type speech today in Moscow. The address comes just days before the one-year anniversary of the start of Russia's war in Ukraine. And just hours before President Biden makes his own remarks about the war from nearby Poland. NPR's Charles Maynes is in Moscow following along and joins us now. Good morning, Charles.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: OK, so this was a really anticipated speech. What did Putin say?

MAYNES: Putin came out swinging against the West, as expected. He again presented the war in Ukraine as an existential struggle against Western forces intent on dismantling the historical territory of Russia, and by that he means Ukraine. Moreover, Putin argued that Russia had done everything to try and find a peaceful solution to the crisis in Ukraine, but really had been deceived time and time again by the West, essentially leaving Russia no choice. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: So here he says they are the ones who started this war. We're the ones trying to end it. Now, surprising here was just how much of the speech then drifted and really stayed focused on domestic issues. Really, the message - as we said, a kind of State of the Union speech - it was really that Russia's brightest days are ahead of it. But then he delivered a surprise at the end. Oh, by the way, Russia is suspending its participation in the New START nuclear arms treaty.

FADEL: OK, wait a second. Does this mean nuclear arms control is going to end?

MAYNES: Well, not quite. Putin insisted that Russia was suspending, not leaving - that's critical - the...

FADEL: OK.

MAYNES: ...New START treaty, due to actions by the U.S. and European nuclear powers such as France and Great Britain. Now talks between the U.S. and Russia to extend the treaty, which runs out currently in February 2026, really had been stumbling of late. Russia had been linking progress in the talks to the U.S. really pulling back on involvement in Ukraine. But certainly this takes us into uncharted territory. And moreover, Putin has assigned his defense ministry to say to prepare, not necessary carry out, possible nuclear tests.

FADEL: OK - more uncertainty. What did Putin have to say given the impact of the war at home? What was the domestic message?

MAYNES: Well, domestically, again, it was this message that, you know, our brightest days are ahead of us. And it's surprising when you see Putin suddenly dip into thanking everyone across Russian society for basically solidarity, for coming together in support of the war. In a sense, I think there's a sense that he really is trying to show that this fight continues with the backing of the Russian people. And so we saw him, time and time again, say that, you know, we're going to pledge families - help to the military families. We're going to build schools. We're going to revive our society. And also, finally, that essentially sanctions had failed, that despite all these Western sanctions trying to tame Russia and really kind of cut into its war-making capabilities, that Russia was still thriving.

FADEL: Now, this speech comes just hours before President Biden gives an address in Poland that will have a very different message. It also comes just a day after his surprise trip to Kyiv. What was the reaction in Moscow?

MAYNES: Yeah, you know, in Moscow, it really was seen as both provocative in the sense that you had, of course, the president of the United States in Kyiv, but also an affirmation, you know, that in Ukraine, Russia is fundamentally engaged in a proxy war with the U.S. They've always presented the U.S. as really the person to deal with if you want to find some kind of solution to this crisis.

FADEL: NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow. Thanks so much, Charles.

MAYNES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.