Joe Biden presses Vladimir Putin on poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Nataliya Vasilyeva
·3 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Russians rallied in freezing temperatures on Saturday, demanding the release of Alexei Navalny - Dmitry Lovetsky/AP
Russians rallied in freezing temperatures on Saturday, demanding the release of Alexei Navalny - Dmitry Lovetsky/AP

Joe Biden challenged Vladimir Putin over the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, and reports of Russian bounties on the heads of US soldiers in Afghanistan, in their first presidential phone call.

Mr Biden also raised concerns about Russian "aggression" against Ukraine, and reaffirmed Washington's "strong support for Ukraine's sovereignty."

The US president said he was willing to extend the New START nuclear arms control treaty for five years. Kremlin officials said documents had been exchanged to extend the pact.

Mr Biden also raised concerns over Russian cyber hacking, interference in US elections, and treatment of peaceful protesters.

Mr Biden made clear he would "act firmly in defence of our national interest in response to malign actions by Russia," the White House said.

The Kremlin said Mr Putin told Mr Biden that he supports "normalisation" of relations between their two countries.

Mr Putin "noted that the normalisation of relations between Russia and the United States" would benefit "the entire international community," the Kremlin said.

Mr Navalny returned to Russia last week for the first time since he nearly died from poisoning with the nerve agent Novichok.

Mr Navalny was detained on arrival and locked up in a notorious Moscow jail for 30 days for allegedly violating the terms of his suspended sentence that ran out a month earlier.

Another court hearing that could see him sentenced to three and a half years in prison is expected later this week.

Lyubov Sobol, a rare Navalny ally who is still in Russia and is not behind bars, told reporters on Tuesday that the opposition team is not looking for the support of the West in countering President Putin.

“We believe that it is up to Russians to bring about democratic change in our country, to fight for rights and freedoms in our country and for the freedom of Navalny,” Ms Sobol, an anti-corruption lawyer who has worked with Mr Navalny for nearly ten years, said.

Russian opposition activist and lawyer Lyubov Sobol - MAXIM SHIPENKOV/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Russian opposition activist and lawyer Lyubov Sobol - MAXIM SHIPENKOV/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

President Putin as well as Russian state-owned media have gone as far as to claim that Mr Navalny is a foreign spy bent on destroying Russian state.

Mr Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation was hit hard by arrests last week as a number of his associates were locked up for days to keep them off the streets ahead of the rally, with a few key figures working from abroad.

Ms Sobol’s remarks come a week before Josep Borrell, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, is due to arrive in Moscow on a much-criticised visit, the first one by an EU foreign policy chief since 2017.

Mr Borrell, who called for the release of Mr Navalny and condemned “mass detentions and police brutality” at the Saturday rallies, insisted on going to Moscow despite opposition from several countries that lamented a lack of a strong EU response to Mr Navalny’s arrest.

Ms Sobol said on Tuesday that she has no plans to meet with Mr Borrell, nor was she approached by anyone for a meeting.

She also reiterated Mr Navalny’s call for the EU and the UK to sanction some of Russia’s richest men for supporting the Kremlin: “Western countries should stand up for their own interests, which is to fight corrupt incomes which come from Russian nationals.”

Nearly 4,000 people were detained at opposition rallies in more than 120 Russian cities and towns on Tuesday.

Police are already pressing rioting charges against several protesters while various criminal inquiries have been launched in several cities which could potentially see dozens of people in the dock.

President Putin on Monday lashed out at opposition leaders for luring young people to protests and insisted that police had to respond as the gatherings were not authorised.

Mr Navalny’s allies on Tuesday raised the stakes in their confrontation with the Kremlin by calling on their supporters to gather next weekend by the headquarters of the Federal Security Service, or the FSB, which Mr Navalny said was behind his near-fatal poisoning.