One Year After Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine, Putin and Biden Go Head to Head

A family watches a TV broadcast of Russian President Vladimir Putin's address

This time, it’s personal.

President Putin gave his annual state of the nation address this morning, and he pulled absolutely no punches, especially when it came to the U.S. Here’s what he had to say, and why the animosity between Russia’s president and President Biden has become so intense.

What did Putin say?

As expected, he falsely accused Ukraine of starting the war, and made his usual claims that the “Kyiv regime” is run by “neo-Nazis.” Per CNN, he also took aim at the “American-led West,” saying it trying to impose “totalitarian values,” and that it intended to set up Ukraine as a base from which to attack Russia. He said that the West has declared “perversions including pedophilia, are part of the norm,” and blasted same-sex marriage.

He added that while the state should stay out of private life, a family “is the union of a man and a woman.”

In his conclusion to the nearly two-hour speech, Putin announced that Russia will suspend its participation in New Start, its final remaining nuclear arms control agreement with the U.S. He accused the U.S. of wanting to control the world, and of tearing down a framework built in the wake of World War 2.

Casting Ukraine as a Western puppet

According to CNN’s reporting, Putin claimed that the Ukrainian government is safeguarding its Western bosses’ interests, rather than its own.

“The Kyiv regime and their Western masters have completely taken over the economy of the country,” he declared. “They have destroyed the Ukrainian industry and economy.”

He added that the “material state” of those who live in Ukraine has been downgraded.

“They’re responsible for the escalation of the situation in Ukraine … for the huge numbers of casualties,” said Putin.

“And of course, the Kyiv regime is essentially alien to the people of Ukraine. They are not protecting their own interests, but those of their minder countries.” 

Putin failed to mention Russia’s enormous losses on the battlefield, which his regime has largely concealed from the Russian population.

Taking aim at the NATO military alliance

Putin railed against the NATO military alliance, which he has habitually used as a cover for Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.

“We have been open, frank and sincere in wanting an open dialogue with the West and we have said many times that the world needs indivisible security and we invited all countries of the world to talk about that,” he said.

“But as a response, all we got was a hypocritical, incomprehensible reply, as well as quite substantive, concrete actions — the expansion of NATO — the so-called umbrella of defense of our country and Central Asia.”

“They are not going to stop. The threat continues every day,” he continued. “And they’re preparing for bloodshed in the Donbas [the Luhansk and Donetsk regions in eastern Ukraine].”

“The elite of the West does not conceal their ambitions, which is to strategically defeat Russia. What does that mean? It means to finish yourself once and for all,” Putin said. “They do that by making local conflicts into much wider and bigger ones.”

Putin claimed that the United States conceived of the conflict in Ukraine “as an anti-Russian project.”

“The aim is to seize these historically Russian lands from us,” Putin added. “Nothing has changed. It is just a question of a continuation of the same policy.”

Gearing up for a clap-back?

President Biden’s speech today from Warsaw, Poland is not pitched as a retort to Putin, however it is expected to underscore the increasing animosity between himself and Russia’s president.

Biden taunted him from the Ukrainian capital Kyiv yesterday, saying that “Putin’s war of conquest is failing,” and adding: “He thought he could outlast us. I don’t think he’s thinking that right now.” 

President Biden walks next to President Zelensky in Kyiv on February 20, 2023 (DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP via Getty Images)

His words emphasized the point that the Russia-Ukraine conflict reaches so much further. “This is so much larger than just Ukraine. It’s about freedom of democracy in Europe, it’s about freedom and democracy at large,” he said.

Biden made it clear that American support for Ukraine would be relentless.

“Freedom is priceless. It’s worth fighting for, for as long as it takes. And that’s how long we’re going to be with you, Mr. President – for as long as it takes,” he told Zelensky.

Putting the war into context

Biden’s speech at Warsaw’s Royal Castle later today is expected to put the war in Ukraine into a “larger context,” and put to rest the notion that it’s some sort of tactical gambit aimed at Moscow.

Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, said per CNN that “the President’s remarks today are … about something larger. And we selected this time, we selected this date, not because President Putin was speaking today.”

“There’s a kind of absurdity in the notion that Russia was under some form of military threat from Ukraine or anyone else,” Sullivan said.

“And that’s an argument the President has made for some time and he will very directly make that point in the speech tonight, not as a rebuttal to Putin’s speech today, but rather to lay to rest an argument that Russia has been making for some time.”

He added: “If Russia stops fighting the war in Ukraine and goes home, the war ends.”