With no major battlefield victories to report in time for the anniversary, Putin has instead turned to nuclear rhetoric, announcing in a major speech on Tuesday that Russia would suspend participation in the New START arms control treaty.
US President Joe Biden, who upstaged Putin this week by journeying unannounced to Kyiv and addressing a crowd in Warsaw, called the suspension of START a “big mistake” but said on Wednesday: “I don’t read into that that he’s thinking of using nuclear weapons or anything like that.”
The RS-28 Sarmat missiles, dubbed “Satan 2”, whose deployment Putin announced on Thursday were first unveiled in 2018 and already supposed to have been deployed last year.
CNN reported that the United States believes Russia carried out a failed test of the Sarmat just before Biden visited Ukraine. Moscow has not commented.
Putin also promised to produce more hypersonic missiles, which fly too fast to be shot down. Russia is due to begin military exercises with China in South Africa on Friday and has sent a frigate equipped with them.
Russia still controls nearly a fifth of Ukraine, despite losing swathes of territory in major battlefield setbacks after failing to capture Kyiv at the outset of its “special military operation”.
Tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians and troops on both sides are believed to have died in the past year. Russian artillery has destroyed Ukrainian cities and set millions of refugees to flight.
Ukrainian troops have stuck mainly to defence since their last offensive in November, hoping Russian forces replenished with reservists will be exhausted from attacking. Kyiv has meanwhile received pledges of Western weapons for a planned counter-offensive later in 2023.
In New York, the UN General Assembly is expected to mark the eve of the invasion’s anniversary by passing a resolution demanding a halt to it. Ukraine hopes to deepen Russia’s diplomatic isolation by seeking yes votes from nearly three-quarters of countries. Moscow, which says the invasion was justified by threats to its security, calls the text biased.
“Russia violated the UN Charter by becoming an aggressor,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmitro Kuleba said at the United Nations. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday also denounced the invasion as a violation of the Charter.
“We have heard implicit threats to use nuclear weapons. The so-called tactical use of nuclear weapons is utterly unacceptable. It is high time to step back from the brink,” Guterres said.