Biden speaks with Putin about extending nuke accord, Ukraine and Navalny

Washington, Jan 26 (efe-epa).- US President Joe Biden on Tuesday spoke by telephone with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, a conversation in which they discussed the New START nuclear disarmament accord, the circumstances of arrested Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and the situation in Ukraine, where Russia has fomented conflict both before and after annexing the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

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,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at her daily press briefing.

The US leader aims to extend for another five years the prevailing New START disarmament treaty – which is due to expire on Feb. 5 – between the world’s two foremost nuclear powers.

The Kremlin has already said that it remains committed to extending the treaty for another five years and that it is awaiting and hoping for “concrete proposals” from Biden.

The New START treaty limits Russia and the US to a maximum of 1,550 nuclear warheads each, along with 700 ballistic missile systems and this weaponry may be divided between air-launched, sea-launched and land-launched delivery systems in accord with the two powers’ strategic priorities.

During the Tuesday phone call, Biden broached with Putin several other matters that concern him, including “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,” Psaki said.

Biden has asked US intelligence agencies to prepare an in-depth evaluation of Moscow’s alleged interference in last November’s elections, the use of chemical weapons against Navalny – who was poisoned with a potentially deadly Russian-made Cold War nerve agent called Novichok – and bounties paid by Russia to the Taliban in exchange for killing US soldiers in Afghanistan.

In December, US officials announced that SolarWinds, a large supplier of information technology that works both with US firms and government agencies, became the target of a huge cyberattack, a massive hack that US analysts and officials have traced to Russian intelligence.

Navalny was poisoned in mid-2020 in Russia but was flown to Germany for specialized medical treatment. Investigators and the Russian opposition leader himself have blamed Moscow’s intelligence agencies for the attack.

After spending some five months recovering from the poisoning in Germany, Navalny returned to Russia on Jan. 17 and was immediately arrested and jailed by Russian authorities, a move that has sparked widespread protests in Russia and condemnation from many nations.

Psaki said Biden brought up these matters to make clear to the Russian leader that the US will not accept aggression by the Kremlin.

The White House press secretary emphasized that Biden’s aim during the conversation with Putin was to make clear to Moscow that Washington will act firmly in defense of its national interests in response to “malign” actions by Russia.

Specifically regarding Moscow, Biden also spoke on Tuesday by phone with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

According to a White House communique, Biden “thanked the (NATO) secretary general for his steadfast leadership of the alliance, and conveyed his intention to consult and work with allies on the full range of shared security concerns, including Afghanistan, Iraq, and Russia.”

He also reaffirmed the US commitment to collective defense under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty and emphasized his commitment to strengthen trans-Atlantic security,” according to the White House statement.

Biden also emphasized to Stoltenberg the importance of shared US-European values, consultations and the ability to strenthen, dissuade and confront new and emerging threats, including climate change and global health security, the White House said.

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