Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview broadcast on Sunday Russia has no choice but to take NATO’s nuclear capabilities into account, in comments justifying Russia’s recent suspension of participation in the New START treaty.

As he has done repeatedly during Ukraine war, Putin argued that Russia faces an existential threat because, in his view, NATO members seek the country’s “strategic defeat.” He said on Russian state television that the suspension of New START was due to the need to “ensure security, strategic stability” for Russia.

“When all the leading NATO countries have declared that their main objective is to inflict a strategic defeat on us (…) how can we ignore their nuclear capabilities under these conditions?” Putin said.

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Putin’s overall goal in invading Ukraine a year ago was to reduce what he perceived as threats to Russia’s security, and he has sometimes used that as justification for threats to use nuclear weapons in the conflict.

Putin declared on Tuesday that Moscow was suspending its participation in the 2010 New START treaty, saying Russia cannot accept US inspections of its nuclear facilities under the pact while Washington and its NATO allies seek Russia’s defeat in Ukraine. The Russian president stressed that Moscow was not withdrawing from the pact altogether, and the Russian Foreign Ministry said it would respect the treaty’s nuclear weapons ceiling and continue to notify the United States of ballistic missile test launches.

In the interview with the Russia 1 TV broadcast on Sunday – two days after the one-year anniversary of the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine – Putin said that although NATO countries are not parties to the treaty, they became part of the “discussions on the issue”, which Moscow does not object, especially since it cannot ignore NATO’s nuclear capabilities.

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Putin claimed that the West wants to eliminate Russia, a notion he has repeatedly used to justify Russian aggression in Ukraine. “They have one goal: to dissolve the former Soviet Union and its basic part – the Russian Federation,” Putin said.

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If the West succeeds in destroying Russia and establishing control, he argued, the Russian people may not survive as a united nation. “There will be Muscovites, Uralians and others,” he said of Russia’s possible fragmentation. The West could only partially accept Russia into the so-called “family of civilized peoples,” dividing the country into separate parts, he theorized.

US President Joe Biden contradicted Putin’s claims in a speech in Poland on Tuesday.

“The United States and the nations of Europe are not trying to control or destroy Russia. The West did not plan to attack Russia, as Putin said today. And millions of Russian citizens who just want to live in peace with their neighbors are not the enemy,” he said during the speech in the Polish the capital Warsaw.

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