President Donald Trump on Tuesday called Russian President Vladimir Putin to congratulate him on his re-election, Reuters reported.
Putin won the election handily over the weekend, garnering more than 75 percent of the votes and extending his rule for another six years – although there were reports of voter fraud and ballot stuffing. In 2000, Putin was thrust into the presidency for the first time and was later re-relected. He regained the presidency in 2012 following his stint as Prime Minister beginning in 2008.
Speaking to reporters at the White House during his meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Trump confirmed: “I congratulated him [Putin] on the victory, the electoral victory.”
U.S. officials as recently as last week promoted the idea of a Russia-U.S. meeting in the near future in order to discuss the arms race and crises in Ukraine, Syria and North Korea. President Trump also floated the idea of working with Russia in the near future.
“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,” Trump said, though the White House later clarified that there was no specific plans for a summit meeting as of now.
Even as Russia continues to flaunt new weapons and military technology, Trump seems far from worried and expressed confidence in the current U.S. military stature.
“We will never allow anybody to have anything even close to what we have,” Trump said.
President Trump’s eagerness to meet with Russia in the near future comes at a tense time between the two nations.
Last week, the administration formally accused Russia of hacking into America’s energy grid. In addition, the U.S. joined Britain, France and Germany in questioning Russia’s alleged role in poisoning a former Russian spy with a military-grade nerve toxin in England. And Russia also continues to be the prime suspect in any potential 2016 U.S. election meddling.
While many U.S. officials suggest a working relationship with Russia would be a positive thing for the U.S., Sen. John McCain was quick to criticize Trump’s intentions.
“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,” McCain said.
Conversely, the Kremlin said on Tuesday that the conversation between Trump and Putin can be viewed as constructive, with a focus on overcoming problems in relations.
“The leaders spoke in favor of developing practical cooperation in different spheres, including on questions of how to ensure strategic stability and fight international terrorism,” the Kremlin said in a statement.