Biden and Putin discuss nuclear arms treaty in first phone call

Joe Biden warned Vladimir Putin that the US would respond to “malign actions” by Russia as the two presidents discussed an extension to a crucial nuclear weapons deal during their first phone call.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Mr Biden and Mr Putin had spoken on Tuesday afternoon about the US’s “willingness to extend New Start for five years”, referring to the arms control treaty that is due to expire in the coming days.

She also said the new US president had raised a number of issues that his predecessor, Donald Trump, had been reluctant to bring up with his Russian counterpart, which had drawn criticism that the former president was too cosy with Mr Putin.

Ms Psaki said Mr Biden had reaffirmed America’s “strong support” for Ukraine’s sovereignty, and addressed the SolarWinds hack, the bounties placed on US soldiers in Afghanistan, interference in the 2020 election, the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny and the treatment of protesters. 

 “[Mr Biden’s] intention was also to make clear that the United States will act firmly in defence of our national interests in response to malign actions by Russia,” Ms Psaki said.

New Start, which was signed in 2011 and was set to expire on February 5, is the last main bilateral defence treaty still in force between the two former cold war foes, following a series of withdrawals from other pacts under the Trump administration.

Securing an extension to the treaty, which caps the number of nuclear warheads held by both countries, was seen as a key test of the new Biden administration’s ability to work with Mr Putin. Analysts had forecast that its expiry could kickstart an expensive and potentially dangerous new nuclear arms race.

The Kremlin said in a statement on the conversation that the two countries had exchanged diplomatic notes confirming an extension to the New Start treaty.

“In the coming days, the parties will complete all the necessary procedures to ensure the further functioning of this important international legal mechanism for the mutual limitation of nuclear missile arsenals,” the Kremlin said.

“Vladimir Putin congratulated Joseph Biden on the beginning of his work as President of the United States,” the Kremlin readout stated.

“He noted that the normalisation of relations between Russia and the United States would meet the interests of both countries and, taking into account their special responsibility for maintaining security and stability in the world, the entire international community.”

“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 Kremlin added.

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