If much of President Vladimir V. Putin’s 100-minute state-of-the-nation speech on Tuesday sounded familiar, that was by design: Its purpose, it appeared, was to emphasize to Russians that war is the new normal.
Mr. Putin’s only major revelation was that Russia would suspend participation in New START, its last remaining nuclear arms control treaty with the United States — and one that the State Department had already declared Russia to be not compliant with. He did not signal any major change in how he will wage the war in Ukraine: There was no official declaration of war, no announcement of a new draft, and no new threat of using nuclear weapons.
Instead, Mr. Putin’s main underlying message was that Russians, and implicitly the Western coalition that opposes him, must prepare for the war to last for years. He urged oligarchs to bring their money home, because Western countries were not to be trusted. He promised changes to Russia’s education system and to science and technology policy to help the country outlast Western sanctions. And he pledged that soldiers and draftees taking part in the war would receive two weeks of leave every six months.
Noting that the invasion — which he continued to call a “special military operation” — began one year ago, Mr. Putin said in the address to governors and lawmakers gathered in Moscow: “We will solve the tasks before us step by step, carefully and consistently.” Claiming that the West was trying to “shift a local conflict into a phase of global confrontation,” he pledged that “we will respond accordingly.”
“The more long-range Western systems are being delivered to Ukraine, the farther we will be forced to move the threat from our borders,” Mr. Putin said.
His words signaled that Russia was prepared to intensify the fighting, but they sounded far less ominous than the barely veiled threats he made several times last year about the potential use of nuclear weapons. Mr. Putin’s tone and diction, too, sounded far more measured than that of his last major speech to the nation, in September, when he announced a military draft and said he was ready to use “all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people.”
“Everything is changing now, changing very fast,” Mr. Putin said on Tuesday, referring to the consequences of war and of sanctions. “This is a time of not just challenges, but of opportunities.”
The rosy picture presented by Mr. Putin drew plenty of applause from the ruling elites — regional officials, lawmakers, Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church — gathered in a hall across Red Square from the Kremlin. It ignored Russia’s repeated setbacks at the front and its bloody, slow-moving efforts to eke out territorial gains in eastern Ukraine.
But Mr. Putin, his speech made clear, believes that time is on his side, because Ukraine’s people could still turn against their government and the West could face political upheaval. After going through a litany of what he described as the West’s moral depravity — saying that “the Anglican Church, for example, plans, to consider the idea of a gender-neutral God” — Mr. Putin said that many people around the world agreed with him.
“Millions of people in the West understand that they are being led to a real spiritual catastrophe,” Mr. Putin said. “The elites, one must say, are simply going crazy.”
As usual, Mr. Putin’s main bogeyman was the United States, and he claimed that it was America’s fault that he was suspending Russia’s participation in the New START treaty. The United States, he claimed, was trying to use its authority to inspect Russian military sites under the treaty to further its efforts to “inflict a strategic defeat on us” amid the war in Ukraine.
But there, too, he modulated his message. He emphasized that Russia was not fully pulling out of the treaty and that Russia would resume nuclear testing only if the United States did so first.
Kirill Rogov, a Russian political analyst, said on social media after Mr. Putin’s remarks, “The main point of the address, as I saw it, was normalization.”
“A normalization of war,” he wrote. “A normalization of repression.”