President Donald Trump said he expects to meet soon with Russian President Vladimir Putin, after calling on Tuesday to congratulate him on his re-election.
“We had a very good call,” Trump said, adding that he expects to meet Putin “in the not too distant future to discuss the arms race, which is getting out of control.”
Trump’s call with Putin came less than a week after the U.S. issued financial sanctions against a St. Petersburg-based “troll farm” and Russian intelligence services that are alleged to have meddled in the 2016 election on the president’s behalf. Trump didn’t bring up the sanctions or Russia’s election interference in the call, nor did he raise a nerve-gas attack on a former Russia spy in Salisbury, England, that the U.K. has blamed on the Russian government, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.
Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican, criticized Trump’s outreach to the Russian leader.
“An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections,” McCain said in a statement Tuesday. “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.”
Sanders said Trump didn’t criticize the conduct of Russia’s election in the call.
“We don’t get to dictate how other countries operate,” she told reporters in a briefing.
Earlier this month, Trump issued a rare rebuke of Putin after the Russian leader announced new, supposedly “invincible” nuclear weapons during an annual address to the nation. The announcement was accompanied by an animated video in which some of the weapons appeared to target the U.S.
Putin has accused the U.S. of triggering a new arms race by continuing work on a missile defense system. He complained in a documentary released online by Russian state television on March 7 — two weeks before the country’s elections — that the U.S. was “unpredictable,” though he called Trump a potential partner.
Trump said that after his election, Putin “made a statement that being in an arms race is not a great thing. And we are spending $700 billion this year on our military and a lot of it is that we are going to remain stronger than any other nation in the world by far.”
“We will never allow anybody to have anything even close to what we have,” Trump said.
It’s not clear when the two leaders would meet, or where. Trump is expected to attend the Group of Seven summit of the world’s largest economies in Canada in June, but Russia was ousted from the group after its 2014 annexation of Crimea.