President Trump offered Russian President Vladimir Putin congrats on his re-election win Tuesday — despite growing evidence of the Kremlin’s attempts to sow discord in the United States and across the globe.
The two leaders plan to meet in the “not too distant future” to discuss the “arms race” between Russia and the U.S., Trump said.
The President said he also wants to discuss Ukraine, North Korea, and Syria with the Russian leader — but made no mention of election meddling, attacks on the U.S. power grid or the poisoning of a former spy in England.
Trump, after an Oval Office meeting with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, said he had a “very good call” with Putin.
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Trump’s national security advisers had told him not to congratulate Putin, writing “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” in capital letters in his presidential daily briefing, sources told the Washington Post.
Putin, 65, won re-election to a fourth six-year term on Sunday as opposition groups raised questions about voting irregularities.
Tensions between Moscow and the West continues to mount amid international concern over a nerve gas attack on a former Russian double agent living in England and questions about meddling in elections and attempting to hack infrastructure in the U.S.
Trump’s advisers had urged him to condemn the nerve gas attack, but he declined to do so, the Post report said.
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Critics blasted Trump for offering kind words to the former KGB agent.
“An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) 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.”
McCain has previously called Putin a murderer and a thug. He’s also pressed the Trump administration to respond aggressively to Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Polls found that Putin took 76% of the vote as The Associated Press reported widespread allegations of ballot-box stuffing and forced voting.
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Trump’s laudatory call came as Britain’s National Security Council met Tuesday to consider more possible punitive measures against Russia over the poisoning.
Donald Trump in the White House
The meeting came hours after nearly two dozen Russian diplomats were ordered to leave Britain because of the attack on Sergei Skripal and his adult daughter.
Russia denies involvement in the attack, but European powers have said it is a sign of increasingly aggressive Russian meddling abroad.
The Trump administration last week announced tough economic sanctions on several Russians indicted last month by special counsel Robert Mueller in response to Moscow’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election.
The penalties coincided with a disclosure from U.S. authorities that Russian government-linked hackers attempted to penetrate the U.S. energy grid.
Trump, who made no mention of the sanctions or the attempted attacks on U.S. utilities, has publicly called for warmer relations with Russia and consistently discounts the U.S. intelligence community’s unanimous assessment that the Kremlin tried to weigh the 2016 election in his favor.
Mueller is also looking at whether anyone in Trump’s campaign coordinated with any Russians.
The White House said on Monday that it was “not surprised by the outcome” of Sunday’s election, and that no congratulatory call was planned.
Several European leaders made similar calls to Putin, but others refrained from reaching out.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said she was waiting for an outside observers’ assessment of the election.
Former President Barack Obama called his Russian counterpart in 2012 following Putin’s last electoral win.
Trump’s comments on Tuesday echoed the official statement from the Kremlin about the call.
“The importance was stressed of coordinating joint efforts to limit an arms race,” a representative from Russia said.
Trump said he planned to meet Putin face-to-face shortly.
“I suspect we’ll probably be meeting in the not too distant future to discuss the arms race, which is getting out of control,” the President said.
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