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Russia's Putin has a different kind of call with the White House

Following the first Biden-Putin phone meeting, the Russian leader no doubt noticed the dramatic change at the White House.
Image: Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Saint Petersburg
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a concert in Saint Petersburg, Russia on Dec. 15, 2018.Mikhail Svetlov / Getty Images file

Donald Trump had so many phone meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, it's difficult to even imagine what all the Republican told his ally in Moscow. The calls we know about, however, were alarming enough.

Three years ago, for example, Trump's national security advisers specifically warned the Republican about what to say about Putin's re-election. Briefing materials included an all-capital-letters directive: "DO NOT CONGRATULATE." The then-American president was also encouraged to condemn Russia's poison-gas assassination attempt on British soil.

Trump ignored the guidance, did the opposite, and seemed a little too eager to make Putin happy -- part of an extensive record of Trump weakness toward the Kremlin.

Yesterday, Putin had his first phone meeting with President Joe Biden, and it's probably fair to say the Russian leader noticed the difference between the current American president and his predecessor. NBC News reported:

Biden discussed a five-year extension to New START, the strategic arms reduction treaty, "agreeing to have their teams work urgently to complete the extension by February 5," the White House said. Biden also reaffirmed the U.S.'s "firm support for Ukraine's sovereignty," raised concerns over the Solar Winds hack on the federal government that has been linked by U.S. officials to Russia, and media reports of Russia placing bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. In addition, Biden raised the issue of 2020 election interference and the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny.

A Washington Post report summarized that Biden made "a hard pivot away from the deference" that Trump often displayed toward Russia, choosing instead to lay out "a bill of complaint" against Putin, "airing allegations of human rights abuses, cyberspying and more."

On the surface, none of this would be especially notable. An American president took a stand in support of American principles and priorities during a call with his Russian counterpart. It's entirely in line with expectations and diplomatic norms.

It is not, however, entirely in line with recent U.S. foreign policy. As a Vox report added, yesterday's Biden-Putin call "stands out for how different it was in both substance and tone from how Trump routinely spoke to Putin throughout his presidency — with deference and praise."

"Finally we have a president who will confront Putin on the real issues at hand," said Alina Polyakova, president of the Center for European Policy Analysis in Washington. "This was the wish list for everything that should have been discussed for the last four years, but wasn't."

Republicans aren't the only ones noticing that elections have consequences.