While President Biden quickly reached an agreement with Moscow to extend the vital New START nuclear arms treaty, the rhetoric from the new US administration towards Russia has been extremely hostile.
In a foreign policy address on Thursday, Biden said the US “will not hesitate to raise the cost to Russia and defend our vital interests.” On Friday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described Biden’s comments as “aggressive, unconstructive rhetoric.”
One issue the US is threatening action over is the jailing of Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition figure who the US alleges was poisoned by Moscow. Biden demanded that Russia release Navalny “without condition.”
Washington’s European allies are also calling for Navalny’s release. Russia announced on Friday that it expelled diplomats from Sweden, Germany, and Poland, who Moscow said attended pro-Navalny demonstrations on January 23rd.
Earlier this week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US is reviewing sanctions on Russia over Navalny and other issues. Some of the allegations against Russia mentioned by the Biden administration are entirely unsubstantiated, like the claim that Russia paid bounties to the Taliban to kill US troops in Afghanistan.
The bounty allegation first appeared in a thinly-sourced story from The New York Times in June 2020. After the Times report, it was slowly revealed that no US intelligence agencies stood behind the assessment, and US military leaders have said there is no intelligence that corroborates the claim.