White House Offers Rare Direct Criticism of Putin

Trump, May vaguely vow to ‘hold Russia accountable’ on Syria

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) shakes hands last Friday with Donald Trump at a G-20 summit in Germany last year. (Wikimedia Commons)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) shakes hands last Friday with Donald Trump at a G-20 summit in Germany last year. (Wikimedia Commons)
Posted March 5, 2018 at 8:14am

The White House in a rare move criticized the Russian government and Vladimir Putin directly on Monday over its backing of the Syrian government’s military actions and the Russian president’s recent comments about his nuclear arsenal.

In a Sunday telephone conversation with UK Prime Minister Theresa May, President Donald Trump “agreed that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent statements on nuclear weapons development were irresponsible,” the White House said in a statement summarizing the call.

Last week, Putin said Russia has developed new strategic nuclear weapons that would leave U.S. missile defense systems “useless.” His comments were accompanied by a video showing Russian nuclear weapons headed for Florida, where Trump often spends weekends and vacations at his Mar-a-Lago resort.

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Trump has withheld any critical words for Putin and only recently acknowledged Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. He still hopes to thaw relations between the former Cold War foes, but there is little evidence he is moving close to that goal.

The criticism of Putin comes as Special Counsel Robert Mueller continues looking into whether Trump and his campaign associates worked with Russia to disrupt the 2016 election — and whether the president obstructed justice in response to the probe.

The White House also panned the Kremlin for backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s military offensive in Eastern Ghouta, which is controlled by opposition forces as that country’s years-long conflict continues.

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Trump and May “agreed that the Syrian regime and its Russian and Iranian sponsors must immediately and fully implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 2401, which calls for an immediate ceasefire across Syria,” the White House said in the statement. “The leaders condemned sharply the bombing in East Ghouta.”

Trump and May intend to “hold Russia accountable for compelling the Assad regime to halt attacks against civilian areas and for granting access to humanitarian relief in East Ghouta.” The statement did not spell out just how the U.S. and British leaders plan to do that, however.

“The operation in Ghouta is a continuation of combating terrorism in different places,” Assad said Sunday in remarks broadcast on state television, according to reports from the region. “There is no contradiction between the truce and combat operations.”