White House: Biden talks tough with Putin on security issues, Ukraine and more

Hunter Walker
·White House Correspondent
·3 min read

WASHINGTON — In a briefing with reporters on Tuesday afternoon White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed President Biden was set to talk to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Psaki said the call was scheduled at the same time as her briefing and described some of the president’s plans for the conversation, which included addressing “matters of concern” stemming from Kremlin policies.

Among the issues on the agenda were arms control and the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Biden “called ... President Putin this afternoon with the intention of discussing our willingness to extend New START for five years and also to reaffirm our strong support for Ukraine’s sovereignty in the face of ... Russia’s ongoing aggression,” Psaki said.

New START is a nuclear arms reduction treaty that is set to expire next month. Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea in 2014, which led to a sharp deterioration in relations between Moscow and Washington. Other matters discussed included “the SolarWinds hack, reports of Russia placing bounties on United States soldiers in Afghanistan, interference in the 2020 election, the poisoning of Alexei Navalny and treatment of peaceful protesters by Russian security forces.”

In December it was revealed that SolarWinds, a large supplier of information technology that works with U.S. companies and government agencies, had fallen victim to a massive hack, which has been traced to Russian intelligence. Last June, reports emerged that Russia had paid Afghan militants to attack American troops in that country. Russian intelligence has also been tied to efforts to interfere in recent American elections.

President Biden, Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Evan Vucci/AP; Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
President Biden; Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Evan Vucci/AP; Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Navalny, a leader of the opposition to Putin, was poisoned by a nerve agent in August, and investigators have blamed the country’s intelligence agencies. After recovering from the poisoning in Germany, Navalny returned to Russia on Jan. 17 and was jailed. His detention has sparked widespread protests in Russia.

Psaki said Biden brought up these issues to make clear to Putin that the U.S. will not accept Russian aggression.

“His intention was also to make clear that the United States will act firmly in defense of our national interests in response to malign actions by Russia,” Psaki said.

Taking place just six days after Biden took office, the call was a stark contrast from the posture of his predecessor, Donald Trump. While the Trump administration went along with congressional sanctions on Russia, Trump was criticized for not doing more to publicly criticize Putin. The Trump administration claimed there were “dissenting opinions” on the alleged Russian bounties in Afghanistan, and the former president repeatedly dismissed U.S. intelligence assessments that the Kremlin interfered on his behalf in the 2016 election.

At an unrelated White House event shortly after Psaki’s briefing, Biden was asked about his call with Putin by Peter Doocy, a correspondent with Fox News.

“What did you talk with Putin about?” Doocy asked.

“You,” Biden quipped, adding, “He sends his best.”

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