Jan 26, 2021 - World

Biden holds first phone call with Putin, raises Navalny arrest

Putin takes a call in 2017. Photo: Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty

President Biden on Tuesday held his first call since taking office with Vladimir Putin, pressing the Russian president on the arrest of opposition leader Alexey Navalny and the Russia-linked hack on U.S. government agencies.

The state of play: Biden also raised arms control, bounties allegedly placed on U.S. troops in Afghanistan and the war in Ukraine, according to a White House readout. The statement said Biden and Putin agreed maintain "consistent communication," and that Biden stressed the U.S. would "act firmly in defense of its national interests in response to actions by Russia that harm us or our allies."

Why it matters: Biden is on course for a deeply adversarial relationship with Putin's Russia, but he'll also have to engage with him on critical issues — most urgently, the extension of the New START nuclear treaty, which is due to expire on Feb. 5.

The other side: The Kremlin quickly provided a readout of the call, stating that the two had discussed the final steps necessary to extend New START, which the statement said would be completed "in the coming days."

  • Biden and Putin also discussed Trump's withdrawal from another treaty, Open Skies, as well as the fate of the Iran nuclear deal and Russia's proposal to hold a summit of permanent members of the UN Security Council, per the readout.
  • "On the whole, the conversation between the leaders of Russia and the United States was of a businesslike and frank nature. It was agreed to maintain contacts," the statement concluded.
  • Between the lines: The Russian readout omitted Navalny, as well as the cyberattack and alleged bounties.

Worth noting: The Kremlin first requested the call last week, AP reports, and Biden agreed but wanted to speak first with allies in Europe and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Go deeper: Biden's Russia challenge.

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