Trump calls to congratulate Putin on election win
Top Republican senators criticize president's overture to Russian leader
U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday called Russian President Vladimir Putin to congratulate him on his re-election and said they would likely meet soon as relations between the two countries grow more strained over allegations of Russian meddling in the U.S. electoral system.
Putin won a landslide victory to extend his rule over the world's largest country for six more years at a time when his ties with the West are on a hostile trajectory.
"I congratulated him on the victory, the electoral victory," Trump told reporters 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."
When asked if Russia's election was free and fair, White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders responded: "We don't get to dictate how other countries operate."
The White House later said there were no specific plans for a meeting. Speaking of the arms race, Trump said: "We will never allow anybody to have anything even close to what we have."
Last week, the Trump administration hardened its stance on Russia by accusing Moscow of hacking into America's energy grid and approving the first sanctions on Russian entities and citizens for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election. Russia denies interference in the election.
The United States also joined Britain, France and Germany in demanding that Russia explain a military-grade nerve toxin attack in England on a former Russian double agent.
Trump, who vowed to improve relations with Russia on taking office 14 months ago, is under pressure from Congress to take a tougher stance on Putin, his inner circle and scores of Russian oligarchs.
Trump has not been highly critical of Russia in public, while maintaining there was no collusion between his presidential campaign and Russians.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said there had been no real choice in Russia's presidential election and complained it had been marked by unfair pressure on critical voices.
The U.S. State Department endorsed the OSCE's preliminary findings, said spokesperson Heather Nauert, and called Trump's call to Putin "protocol."
Putin received calls from a number of other foreign leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Many others, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, sent congratulatory telegrams.
When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked on Monday for comment on Putin's re-election on Monday, he said: "It was a nail-biter."
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny had been barred from the race, which Putin won with 77 per cent of the vote.
Russia says call was constructive
The Kremlin said Tuesday's conversation had been broadly constructive and focused on overcoming problems in relations. "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.
Putin and Trump agreed on the need to avoid an arms race and discussed "a possible high-level meeting," the Kremlin said.
Putin has struck a softer tone toward the West since Sunday, saying he has no desire for an arms race and would do everything he could to resolve differences with other countries.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies separately that Putin and Trump had not discussed the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter. London has blamed Moscow for the attack, a charge Russia denies.
With files from The Associated Press and CBC News