Joe Biden has said Vladimir Putin expected his enemies to “roll over” when he invaded Ukraine but was met with the “iron will” of its allies – as the Russian president suspended a key nuclear treaty with the US after accusing the West of starting the war.
The American president gave a historic speech from the gardens of Warsaw’s Royal Castle just hours after Mr Putin delivered a state of the nation address in Russia.
Mr Biden was speaking in the Polish capital a day after he made his highly-secretive and historic visit to Kyiv in Ukraine.
“I can report: Kyiv stands strong, Kyiv stands proud, it stands tall and, most important, it stands free,” Mr Biden said on Tuesday evening.
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Mr Putin had earlier blamed the West for starting the war in Ukraine and claimed his country responded with force “in order to stop it”.
He added that Ukraine was in talks with the West about weapons supplies before Russia invaded its neighbour on 24 February last year.
“I would like to emphasise when Russia tried to find a peaceful solution they were playing with the lives of people and they were playing a dirty game,” Mr Putin said.
Biden says ‘democracy was too strong’
Both leaders gave speeches presenting starkly contrasting views of the war as the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion approaches.
Mr Biden used his address to repeatedly accuse Mr Putin of underestimating Ukraine and the strength of NATO before ordering the full-scale offensive.
The US president said: “When Russia invaded it wasn’t just Ukraine being tested, the whole world faced a test for the ages… all democracies were being tested.
“The questions we faced were as simple as they were profound. Would we respond or would we look the other way?
“Would we be strong or would we be weak?”
Mr Biden continued: “One year later we know the answer.
“We did respond, we would be strong, we would be united, and the world would not look the other way.”
Mr Biden said: “President Putin ordered his tanks to roll into Ukraine, he thought we would roll over. He was wrong.
“The Ukrainian people were too brave. America, Europe, a coalition of nations from the Atlantic to the Pacific, we were too unified.
“Democracy was too strong. Instead of the easy victory he perceived and predicted, Putin left with burnt-out tanks and Russia’s forces in disarray.
“He thought he would get the Finlandization of NATO, instead he got the NATO-isation of Finland and Sweden.”
The term Finlandization has been used to refer to the decision of a country not to challenge a more powerful neighbour in foreign politics while maintaining national sovereignty.
‘Autocrats have grown weaker’
“He thought NATO would fracture and divide. Instead, NATO was more united and more unified than ever before,” Mr Biden continued.
“He thought autocrats like himself were tough and leaders of democracies were soft, and then he met the iron will of America and nations everywhere who refused to accept a world governed by fear and force.”
Mr Biden added: “President Putin is confronted with something today that he didn’t think was possible a year ago.
“The democracies of the world have grown stronger not weaker, but the autocrats of the world have grown weaker not stronger.”
Mr Biden also said Russia had committed “abhorrent” crimes in Ukraine by targeting civilians with “death and destruction” and had used rape as a “weapon of war”.
He also accused Russian forces of stealing Ukrainian children and bombing maternity hospitals and orphanages.
Mr Biden insisted the US support for Ukraine will never waiver.
Biden the Cold War warrior is on a mission to build on the success of his visit to Kyiv
As billed by White House officials, this speech in Warsaw was about Ukraine but also “the larger contest at stake between those aggressors who are trying to destroy fundamental principles and those democracies who are pulling together to try to uphold it”.
This was Joe Biden the Cold War warrior and statesman whose lifelong belief in those principles of freedom and democracy took him all the way to war-torn Kyiv this week.
He recalled the World War Two struggles for freedom in this city and vowed its example would inspire the West’s battles today.
“The appetites of autocrats must not be appeased. They must be opposed.”
His mission now is building on that stunning surprise visit and to rally allies and maintain solidarity and unity as we pass the grim milestone of the first anniversary of Russia’s unprovoked invasion.
Russia says the West ‘released the genie from the bottle’
In his address hours before Mr Biden’s, Mr Putin said Russia decided to “protect its people and history” by conducting a “special military operation step-by-step” – as he warned that Moscow will “continue to resolve the objectives that are before us”.
The Russian president has always referred to the invasion as a “special military operation” since it began last year.
“I would like to repeat, they started the war and we used force in order to stop it,” he said.
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Mr Putin also announced that Russia was suspending its participation in a key nuclear treaty with the US which limits the two sides’ strategic nuclear arsenals.
The New START treaty caps the number of strategic nuclear warheads that the US and Russia can deploy.
Mr Putin said Russia was not fully withdrawing from the treaty and said Moscow must stand ready to resume nuclear weapons tests if the US does so.
The Russian president took aim at the West and said they “released the genie from the bottle” in the 10 years prior to the war, by starting others.
He claimed Western countries were painting Russia as an enemy of the state to divert attention from the corruption and socio-economic problems in their own countries.
On weapons, Mr Putin also claimed the West was “in negotiations” over the “supply of heavy military equipment and planes and anti-aircraft missile systems” before the operation began.
While Russian forces have suffered three major battlefield reversals since the war began, it still controls around one-fifth of Ukraine.
In his wide-ranging speech, the Russian president also claimed millions of people in the West are being “led to a real spiritual catastrophe”, as he criticised the “Anglican Church’s plan to consider the idea of a gender-neutral God”.
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In his visit to the Ukrainian capital on Monday, Mr Biden said Washington would provide Kyiv with a new military aid package worth $500m (£413m) as he was pictured walking in the city with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Mr Biden said Mr Putin had believed Ukraine was “weak and the West was divided” and “thought he could outlast us” but added – “he was dead wrong”.
Mr Zelenskyy said he discussed long-range weapons with Mr Biden and described negotiations as “very fruitful”.