Secretary of State Antony Blinken has warned Russia that the new U.S. administration will respond “firmly” to Russian actions against the United States and its allies.
The State Department said Blinken issued the warning in a February 4 telephone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
“The Secretary reiterated President [Joe] Biden’s resolve to protect American citizens and act firmly in defense of U.S. interests in response to actions by Russia that harm us or our allies,” the State Department said in a statement.
“This includes the release of Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed so that they are able to return home to their families in the United States,” it added.
In June 2020, a Russian court sentenced Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, to 16 years on espionage charges, which he has vehemently rejected.
Reed, another former U.S. marine, was handed a nine-year prison sentence in July for allegedly assaulting two police officers, a charge that he refused to admit.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Lavrov told Blinken that Moscow was open to a normalization of bilateral relations.
The State Department said Blinken and Lavrov discussed this month’s extension of the New START nuclear arms-control treaty and “the need for new arms control that addresses all of Russia’s nuclear weapons and the growing threat from China.”
Russia and the United States formally extended New START, the last remaining arms-control pact between Washington and Moscow, for another five years — just days before it was set to expire.
The treaty limits the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads at 1,550, deployed strategic delivery systems at 700, and provides for a verification regime.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump had made a failed attempt to negotiate limits on other categories of nuclear weapons and to add China to the treaty.
Blinken has said the extension of the treaty provides time for Moscow and Washington to negotiate a new verifiable arms-control arrangement while ensuring that the United States can monitor and verify limits on Russian strategic nuclear arms.
The State Department statement said Blinken also raised the issue of “Russian interference” in last year’s presidential election that brought Biden to the White House, Moscow’s “military aggression” in Ukraine and Georgia, the poisoning of jailed Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny, and the recent SolarWinds hack of U.S. government systems.