Putin's Nuclear Rhetoric Likely Meant to Distract From Trivial Address: ISW

Russian President Vladimir Putin, while making several questionable statements during his state of the nation address Tuesday, failed to define any specific goals for his war in Ukraine, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) assessed.

Putin's speech, which went on for nearly two hours, arrived just three days before the one-year anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. But instead of presenting "new objectives" for Russia's continued offensive during his speech, the ISW noted, the Russian leader "said very little of actual substance."

"Putin could have used this event to articulate new objectives and means for achieving them, such as announcing another formal wave of partial mobilization, redefining the 'special military operation' as an official war or taking additional steps to mobilize the Russian defense industrial base in a more concrete way," the think tank wrote.

Putin's Speech Lacks 'Substance': ISW
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday arrives for his annual meeting with the Federal Assembly in Moscow. According to the Institute for the Study of War, Putin's national address lacked "actual substance" pertaining to the war in Ukraine. Getty Images

"Instead, Putin said very little of actual substance, likely in order to set continued information conditions for a protracted war in Ukraine by not articulating specific temporal goals and framing the war as existential to the Russian domestic population," the ISW added.

Among one of Putin's most notable statements came toward the end of the address when he announced Russia will stop observing the New START treaty, a nuclear arms control agreement signed by former President Barack Obama and his then-Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev.

But according to the ISW's assessment, Putin's announcement about nuclear agreements "captured more attention than the relatively boilerplate content of the rest of the speech."

"ISW has previously reported on the Russian use of nuclear rhetoric as an information operation to discourage Ukraine and the West and compensate for Russian battlefield failures," read Tuesday's assessment. "ISW continues to assess that Russia will not employ a nuclear weapon in Ukraine or against NATO, however."

While Putin's announcement does not mean that Russia will completely leave the agreement, the Kremlin is planning on suspending its participation while it evaluates the nuclear arsenals of NATO allies.

The New START treaty, which was extended in February 2021, prohibits Russia and the U.S. to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers. Either country can also request an on-site inspection to ensure both parties are complying with the terms of the agreement.

According to the Federation of American Scientists, Putin was estimated to have 5,977 nuclear warheads in his arsenal as of last year, while the U.S. has around 5,428.

While Putin touts potential nuclear discord with the West, Russia's military appears to be continuing to struggle in its invasion of Ukraine, with Ukrainian officials predicting Moscow's death toll around 141,260 troops since the start of the war.

On Tuesday, retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling claimed in an op-ed to The Washington Post that Russia's capacity to overtake Ukraine was "overestimated" from the start, saying that Putin had "failed" in all phases of the war.

Newsweek has reached out to the Russian Ministry of Defense for comment.