President Donald Trump has congratulated Vladimir Putin on his re-election, a week after the US took a harder stance towards Russia.
Mr Putin won a landslide victory in Sunday’s presidential election, extending his rule over the world’s largest country for another six years at a time when his ties with the West are on a hostile trajectory.
President Trump added the pair spoke about the arms race and crises in Ukraine, Syria and North Korea and said about would likely meet soon.
“I congratulated him on the victory, the electoral victory,” Trump told reporters on Tuesday at the White House while meeting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The call had to do also with the fact that we will probably get together in the not too distant future so we can discuss arms, we can discuss the arms race.
“We will never allow anybody to have anything even close to what we have,” he said in relation to the arms race.”
The White House later said there were no specific plans for a summit meeting.
The president’s administration last week accused Russia of hacking into America’s energy grid and approved the first sanctions on Russian entities and individuals for alleged meddling in the 2016 US election.
Mr Trump, who vowed to improve relations with Russia on taking office 14 months ago, has been under pressure from congress to take a tougher stance on Mr Putin, his inner circle and scores of Russian oligarchs.
Republican US Senator John McCain chastised Mr Trump for the congratulatory call.
An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections. And by doing so with Vladimir Putin, President Trump insulted every Russian citizen who was denied the right to vote in a free and fair election. https://t.co/lcQTBi7CA1
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) March 20, 2018
“An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections,” McCain said in a statement.
“And by doing so with Vladimir Putin, President Trump insulted every Russian citizen who was denied the right to vote in a free and fair election to determine their country’s future, including the countless Russian patriots who have risked so much to protest and resist Putin’s regime.”
The Kremlin said Tuesday’s conversation between the two leaders had been broadly constructive and focused on overcoming problems in relations, which are at a post-Cold War low.
“The leaders spoke in favour of developing practical co-operation in different spheres, including on questions of how to ensure strategic stability and fight international terrorism,” the Kremlin said in a statement.
Mr Putin and Mr Trump agreed on the need to work together to avoid a possible arms race, the Kremlin said, adding: “Special attention was devoted to working through the question of a possible high-level meeting”.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies separately that Mr Putin and Mr Trump had not discussed the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain.
London has blamed Moscow for the attack, a charge Russia denies. The Skripals remain in a critical condition.
The White House said in a statement that the leaders “emphasised the importance of denuclearising the Korean Peninsula” after Mr Trump agreed to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in hopes of defusing the nuclear threat from the North.