President Biden has spoken to Vladimir Putin on other occasions—but a phone call Tuesday was their first talk president to president. The White House says Biden raised concerns with the Russian leader about issues including the poisoning and arrest of Alexei Navalny, the massive SolarWinds hacking campaign, Russia's "ongoing aggression" with Ukraine, attempts to interfere in the 2020 election, and alleged Russian bounties on US troops in Afghanistan, Politico reports. "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," said White House press secretary Jen Psaki, per CNN. Sources say the Kremlin requested the call last week.
A statement from the Kremlin painted a different picture of the call, saying that "issues of the bilateral and international agenda were discussed," including cooperation on the pandemic, the Washington Post reports. "The conversation between the leaders of Russia and the United States was of a businesslike and frank nature," the statement said, which the AP notes is often a "diplomatic way of referring to tense discussions." But there was at least one area of agreement: Washington and Moscow say Biden and Putin agreed to work to extend the New Start treaty, the last remaining nuclear arms control agreement between the US and Russia, before it expires on Feb. 5. (Read more Vladimir Putin stories.)