For the first time since his inauguration, U.S. President Joe Biden spoke Tuesday with Russian leader Vladimir Putin — agreeing to extend a landmark nuclear arms deal while expressing concerns about the arrest of dissident Alexei Navalny, Moscow’s cyber-espionage campaign and bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan, two senior Biden administration officials said.
Biden’s stance appeared to mark another sharp break with that of former President Donald Trump, who often voiced delight at his warm relations with the Kremlin leader.
At the same time, Biden and Putin agreed that Russia and the United States should complete a five-year extension of the New START nuclear arms control treaty before it expires in early February.
A Kremlin readout of the conversation said the leaders “expressed satisfaction” over an exchange of diplomatic notes that opens the door to fast-track extension of the treaty — a 2010-negotiated deal that caps the nuclear arsenals of both countries at 1,550 warheads.
On Wednesday, Russia’s lower house of parliament, the Duma, moved quickly to ratify the extension.
Previous negotiations to extend the nuclear agreement broke down last fall — primarily over the Trump administration’s insistence that China be included in the bilateral treaty.
The Kremlin statement also said Biden and Putin had also discussed both countries’ recent exit from the Open Skies Treaty — a trust-building deal that allows flyover aerial surveillance. Observers have expressed hope the deal could be resuscitated.
Russia reportedly reached out to Biden in the first days of his four-year term in the White House. The U.S. leader agreed but only after he had prepared with his staff and had a chance for phone calls with three close Western allies of the U.S. — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
It was not immediately known how Putin responded to Biden raising contentious issues between the two countries.