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In first call, Biden presses Putin on Navalny arrest, cyberattacks

US President Joe Biden confronted Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Tuesday about his government’s arrest of political rival Alexei Navalny and a range of other hot-button issues, including the Kremlin’s alleged cyberattack on US agencies and a plot to assassinate American soldiers overseas, according to the White House.

Washington, 27 January 2021 (tca/dpa/MIA) — US President Joe Biden confronted Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Tuesday about his government’s arrest of political rival Alexei Navalny and a range of other hot-button issues, including the Kremlin’s alleged cyberattack on US agencies and a plot to assassinate American soldiers overseas, according to the White House.

Seeking to make a sharp break with former President Donald Trump’s cordial relationship with Putin, Biden turned up the heat on the Russian president during their first call since his inauguration, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.

“He called President Putin this afternoon … to reaffirm our strong support for Ukraine sovereignty in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression and also to raise matters of concern, 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 Russia security forces,” Psaki said at a White House briefing.

On a less confrontational note, Psaki said Biden and Putin also spoke about the need to extend New START, the last remaining nuclear arms treaty between the US and Russia, which is set to expire next month.

The Kremlin’s readout of the call was focused almost entirely on New START.

“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 readout said.

The Russian readout added, “On the whole, the conversation between the leaders of Russia and the United States was of a businesslike and frank nature.”

Unlike Trump, Biden has vowed to ramp up pressure on Russia over its years-long occupation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and its increasingly aggressive cyber warfare operations.

The US intelligence community believes Putin’s regime is behind a sweeping cyberattack on US government agencies that was conducted using the SolarWinds software system last year. The Kremlin also used social media to interfere in the 2020 election in support of Trump, according to US intelligence agencies.

It was reported last year that Russia’s intelligence service offered cash bounties to Taliban fighters in Afghanistan willing to kill US soldiers. Trump faced intense scrutiny for reportedly refusing to punish Russia for the bounty scheme.

Adding to the list, Putin’s government last week arrested Navalny, the most prominent political opposition leader in Russia, after he returned to Moscow from Germany, where he had undergone treatment for nerve agent poisoning. The arrest has sparked mass protests across Russia, and the US believes the Russian government poisoned Navalny and is detaining him on spurious charges.

The Kremlin has broadly denied any wrongdoing.

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