Almost a year after he ordered the invasion of Ukraine, Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin presented himself at home as the protector of the Russian people. Once again he blamed the western states, which are supporting the attacked Ukraine, for the escalation in the neighboring country: “They started the war,” Putin told hundreds of people in his state of the nation address in Moscow on Tuesday.

Russia wants to end the fighting with its “special military operation,” Putin claimed. The 70-year-old once again insulted the political leadership in Kiev as a “neo-Nazi regime”. At the end of the eagerly awaited speech, which lasted more than an hour and a half, Putin announced that he would suspend the last major nuclear weapons deal with the United States.

The head of the Kremlin spoke to members of the Russian parliament, ministers and selected representatives from the arts, religion and the military at the Gostiny Dvor event center. State television repeatedly showed people in the audience who had the word “People’s Front” printed on their sweaters. In the meantime, some looked bored at the cell phone – but then the camera quickly panned to those who nodded to themselves.

It was Putin’s 18th state of the nation address in more than 20 years in power. The previous speech was almost two years ago and took place in April 2021. Last year there were none; the Kremlin had explained this with a very high “dynamics of events”.

However, there are no major successes

But even now – almost exactly a year after the start of the war on February 24, 2022 – Putin can’t point to any major successes in Ukraine: The battles for Bakhmut in the east, for example, are considered to have resulted in losses – the Ukrainians are still holding the fort there. Large parts of the illegally annexed areas of Zaporizhia, Cherson, Luhansk and Donetsk, which Moscow solemnly declared as new subjects of Russia last fall, have not been conquered.

And so, in his speech, Putin initially turned his attention to the inside: he promised veterans and relatives of killed soldiers more financial support. A separate relief fund should be set up, and the family of each dead person should have a social worker on their side.

In addition, the Russian army must be modernized, Putin explained – “taking into account our accumulated experience”. International observers repeatedly attest the Russian armed forces serious problems with military equipment.

problems concealed

Putin dismissed Western sanctions as largely ineffective. He did not mention serious problems – for example in the automotive and aviation industries. Even the Russian banking sector posted a profit last year, the president said. “Yes, it’s not quite that big,” Putin admitted — thereby concealing the fact that Russia’s banks’ profits had plummeted by a full 90 percent in the first year of the war.

Putin also announced an increase in the minimum wage. He held out the prospect of reconstruction and jobs for the annexed Ukrainian regions, most of which were destroyed in the first place by his war. The audience in the hall rose from their seats and clapped.

And then, at a later point in time, the Kremlin chief made his actual announcement: he was suspending the last major nuclear disarmament treaty with the United States. However, this is not an exit, he emphasized.

Also criticism from Russia

“Putin has demonstrated his insignificance and confusion,” said adviser in the Ukrainian presidential office, Mykhailo Podoliak. Criticism also came from Russia. The opposition group Feminist Anti-War Resistance, for example, was relieved that Putin had neither announced a new wave of mobilization nor officially imposed martial law. At the same time, she regretted that the news announced by Putin was “bad as always”.

Supporters of the imprisoned Kremlin opponent, Alexei Navalny, also pointed out on social networks that, of all times, during Putin’s speech, several Ukrainian civilians died when the Russian army shelled the city of Cherson, which had been under Ukrainian control again for several months.

Putin, however, at his lectern in Moscow’s ballroom conjured up the image of a proud Russia that had unjustly fallen victim to US-controlled world politics. “Our civilization is the most important thing. It was handed down to us by our ancestors and we must preserve it for our descendants,” he said at the end of his speech. “The truth is on our side.” The crowd claps again. Then the Russian national anthem begins.