President Biden spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, the first call between the two leaders since Biden was elected president, and pressed the Russian leader on the SolarWinds hack and the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the call took place Tuesday afternoon and Biden intended to communicate his administration’s desire to seek a full five-year extension of the New START nuclear arms treaty with Russia. Biden also planned to raise concerns about ongoing Russian aggression, she said.
The White House later issued a formal readout of the call stating Biden and Putin agreed “to have their teams work urgently” to complete the five-year extension of New START by the Feb. 5 deadline.
The White House also said Biden “reaffirmed the United States’ firm support for Ukraine’s sovereignty” and “raised other matters of concern, including the SolarWinds hack, reports of Russia placing bounties on United States soldiers in Afghanistan, interference in the 2020 United States election, and the poisoning of Aleksey Navalny.”
“President Biden made clear that the United States will act firmly in defense of its national interests in response to actions by Russia that harm us or our allies. The two presidents agreed to maintain transparent and consistent communication going forward,” the White House said.
Biden has also held phone calls with the leaders of France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Mexico, and he spoke Tuesday with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
Biden faces a complex set of challenges in dealing with Russia after having been sworn in as president six days ago. He plans to try to work with Russia in limited areas of shared interests, such as arms control, while also seeking to crack down on Moscow’s increasingly adversarial behavior.
The White House last week formally notified the Kremlin of its decision to seek a five-year extension of New START, the last major arms control pact between the U.S. and Russia.
The Kremlin in its own readout of Tuesday’s call said Putin congratulated Biden and that the normalization of relations between the U.S. and Russia would be in the mutual interest of both countries.
The statement also indicated that the two sides reached an agreement on extending New START. The Kremlin said that the two leaders discussed Ukraine but did not mention the issues the White House said Biden would raise.
At the same time, Biden has ordered intelligence reviews of a range of Russian activities, including Moscow’s involvement in the far-reaching SolarWinds hack, the poisoning and imprisonment of opposition leader Navalny, alleged Russian bounties on U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Russian election interference efforts.
“I find that we can both operate in the mutual self-interest of our countries as a New START agreement and make it clear to Russia that we are very concerned about their behavior, whether it’s Navalny, whether it’s SolarWinds or reports of bounties on heads of Americans in Afghanistan,” Biden told reporters Monday.
The president said he would “not hesitate to raise those issues with the Russians.”