Putin suspends last U.S. nuclear treaty

STORY: In a major speech on the war in Ukraine lasting an hour and 45 minutes, Russia's President Vladimir Putin has announced that his country is suspending its participation in the last nuclear arms treaty it has with the United States...

... and warned that he's putting new ground-based nuclear weapons at combat readiness.

The arms treaty, called the "New START Treaty," limits the number of nuclear warheads that the two powers can deploy.

The U.S., Putin says, is trying to destroy Russia and risks turning a local war in Ukraine into a global conflict.

"In the beginning of February this year there was a statement from the North Atlantic alliance demanding that Russia 'returns to the Strategic Arms Treaty' as they call it, including allowing inspections of our nuclear defense facilities. I don't even know what to call it. It's a theater of the absurd."

The New START Treaty does allow each side to inspect the others' nuclear sites, up to 18 times a year, but they were put on hold three years ago due to the pandemic. Talks to resume it last November were cancelled, and U.S. has called the hiatus a violation.

The treaty also limits both sides to 1,550 warheads, and how many bombers they have, and combined they hold over 90% of the world's nukes.

Now the Russian president is emphasizing that Moscow isn't completely abandoning the treaty but is suspending it -- putting it on ice. He mentioned France and the UK too, which also have nuclear weapons, and that their arsenals may need to be taken into account for any future discussions.

Putin also said, without citing evidence, that some leaders in Washington were considering restarting American nuclear tests, and that if the U.S. did so that Russia would be ready to conduct their own. The U.S., Russia, France, and the UK all stopped nuclear testing in the 1990s.

Putin's announcement came as U.S. President Biden was meeting NATO allies in Poland, a day after his surprise trip to Kyiv. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the development "irresponsible" and that the U.S. would be what he called, "postured appropriately."