Just hours after the Electoral College elected Joe Biden the next president, formalizing the former Democratic vice president’s win in the Nov. 3 election, Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin on Tuesday acknowledged Biden’s victory, saying he “wished the president-elect every success” and was “ready for interaction and contact.”
The Kremlin, which has decried what it has called Biden’s “sharp anti-Russian rhetoric” but praised the president-elect’s comments on arms control, had said it preferred to wait until the election results were official before congratulating a winner.
Putin was one of the last world leaders who had not acknowledged Biden’s victory. President Donald Trump is still refusing to concede the election. Many Republican lawmakers have followed Trump’s lead and not publicly endorsed Biden’s victory.
Putin’s acknowledgment came before Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R., Ky., for the first time, also Tuesday, congratulated Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on their election win.
In a telegram sent to Biden – published by Russian state media – Russia’s longtime leader “expressed confidence that Russia and the U.S., who bear special responsibility for global security and stability, can facilitate resolution of many problems and challenges faced by the world now despite disagreements.”
Still, Putin’s remarks come as cybersecurity experts point the finger at Russian state-backed hackersfor a massive, months-long digital spying operation that targeted the U.S. government, military and corporations. Russia denies any involvement.
On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA, issued a highly unusual public appeal for further information about the breach. The federal agency requested that anyone with knowledge of the hack, which dates back to midyear or earlier, to contact an email address: email@example.com.
The apparent conduit for the hacks is server software called SolarWinds. It is used by hundreds of thousands of organizations globally, including most Fortune 500 companies, multiple U.S. federal agencies including the Homeland Security, Commerce, State and Treasury departments, all five branches of the U.S. military, and dozens of universities.
None of the potentially targeted U.S. government agencies have responded to requests for comment about the hack or released information about the extent of the possible damage caused by the digital espionage, which is being investigated.
The Kremlin’s suspected links to criminality were also in focus this week after the U.K.-based investigations outlet Bellingcat unveiled detailed telecommunications evidence that it says links the near-fatal poisoning of outspoken Putin critic Alexei Navalny with operatives from Russia’s secretive Federal Security Service. A number of prominent opponents of Putin – journalists, politicians and former associates – have died or been injured in violent or suspicious circumstances, at home and abroad.
Most world leaders congratulated Biden within days of the election. Some analysts have compared Putin’s relative tardiness to his response in 2016, when the Kremlin congratulated Trump within hours of the race being called. But Trump’s challenger Hillary Clinton gave her concession speech less than a day after the race was called.
Mexico’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro also waited until after Biden’s win was confirmed by the Electoral College before congratulating him.
Six weeks after the 2020 presidential vote, Trump hasn’t yet explicitly admitted defeat.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia James F. Collins said Biden’s policy toward Russia would be a “distinct contrast” from the past four years.
Trump failed to press Putin over intelligence allegations that a Russian military unit offered Taliban-linked militants bounties to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan. When the 2019 Mueller report and 2020 Senate intelligence report described Russia’s attempts to sway the 2016 presidential election, the president denied the evidence and did not take action against the Kremlin. Trump has not addressed the recent Kremlin-backed hacking allegations involving the SolarWinds server software.
In separate comments released Tuesday by the U.S. State Department, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took aim at Russia’s behavior in the Mediterranean region.
“Russia continues to threaten Mediterranean stability using a variety of techniques to spread disinformation, undermine national sovereignty, and sow chaos, conflict, and division within countries throughout the region,” Pompeo said in a statement.