Russia has accused the United States of interfering in its domestic affairs following a crackdown on protesters supporting opposition leader Alexey Navalny, but a spokesman for Vladimir Putin said the Russian president would be open to talking to US President Joe Biden.
On Saturday, the US strongly condemned “the use of harsh tactics against protesters and journalists this weekend in cities throughout Russia” and called for the release of those who had been arrested.
Tens of thousands of people had taken to the streets in support of Navalny, who was arrested upon returning to Moscow last weekend following months of treatment in Germany for a near-fatal poisoning.
More than 3,500 demonstrators were detained in protests across the country, with several injured in clashes with police in Moscow.
The Russian foreign ministry swiftly rebuked the US’s condemnation.
Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov took particular issue with a US embassy “demonstration alert” that warned US citizens in Russia of possible unrest, telling a state TV channel on Sunday that Washington was “absolute” interference in Russian domestic affairs.
“Of course, those publications are inappropriate,” Peskov said.
“And of course, indirectly, they are absolute interference in our internal affairs.”
However, Peskov also struck a more conciliatory tone and said Russia is ready to set up a dialogue with the Biden administration, which has pledged to rebuild a coalition of European allies against the Kremlin.
“This will be the dialogue where, of course, differences will have to be stated to a greater extent … But at the same time, a dialogue is a possibility to find some rational kernels, the little parts where our relations are getting closer,” he said.
“And if the current US administration is ready for such an approach, I have no doubts that our president will respond in kind.”
Moscow and Washington remain deeply divided on a number of issues.
The US has repeatedly condemned Russia’s backing of Ukrainian separatists, as well as its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and its intervention in Libya’s civil war.
US intelligence officials also accuse Russian agents of seeking to meddle in the country’s 2016 presidential election through hacking, social media manipulation, and the release of ill-attained information meant to harm then-candidate Hillary Clinton.
Biden, who has recounted telling Putin “I don’t think you have a soul” and called Russia “the biggest threat” to US security, has promised to take a harder line against “autocrats like Putin” than former US President Donald Trump.
On the campaign trail, Biden also criticised the poisoning of Navalny, saying it was evidence Russia is “so paranoid that it is unwilling to tolerate any criticism or dissent”.
The Kremlin remained conspicuously silent following election Biden’s victory, with Putin being one of the last global leaders to congratulate him.
Meanwhile, the two countries have some pressing issues to resolve, including the New START arms control treaty, which is due to expire on February 5.
The White House said last week that Biden would seek a five-year extension to the deal, which calls for reducing the number of nuclear missile launchers.
The Kremlin has said it “welcomes” the proposal, but added that “all will depend” on the details.