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Heightened US-Russia tensions as Biden calls Putin a killer, Moscow pulls envoy

“We are interested in preventing their irreversible degradation if the Americans recognize the risks involved,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement

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Tensions between Washington and Moscow appear to be making no progress under President Joe Biden despite his administration quickly extending the nuclear disarmament treaty with Russia days after taking office.

On Wednesday, Russia pulled its ambassador to the US after Biden called his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, “a killer.”

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Although the Russian Foreign Ministry said Ambassador Anatoly Antonov was called back to ensure bilateral ties did not degrade irreparably, the US made no immediate efforts to remedy the damage caused by Biden’s remarks.

During an interview on Tuesday, Biden said Putin would “pay a price” for his efforts to damage Biden’s chances of beating then-President Donald Trump in the 2020 elections.

“We are interested in preventing their irreversible degradation if the Americans recognize the risks involved,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

Ties between Washington and Moscow have deteriorated over the years, and the Trump administration worked until its final days in office to pressure Russia into accepting a cap on its warheads as part of the New START treaty.

The 2010 New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) was set to expire on Feb. 5, which threatened to renew a new nuclear arms race.

Senior officials working on the issue under the previous US administration have said they had the Russians cornered and ready to concede on limitations.

Now, critics say, the Biden administration has lost leverage to push the Russians on other issues. However, the two sides will be working together this week when Moscow hosts a peace summit on Afghanistan, which the top US diplomat for Afghanistan will attend.

“Similarly, Biden’s team quickly revoked the terror designation against the Iran-backed Houthis without concessions from them and now they’re regretting the rushed move. With Russia, they appeased them by extending the treaty and now the president calls Putin a killer,” a former US official told Al Arabiya English.

Asked if Biden’s comments could threaten US officials' participation in the Afghanistan talks, a State Department spokesperson refused to comment.

“I have nothing further to add on what President Biden has already said, but I’ll reiterate that what he did emphasize … that we will cooperate with [Russia],” when it is in the national security interest of the US, State Department Deputy Spokesperson Jalina Porter told reporters Wednesday.

Separately, the US announced further sanctions on Russia for its poisoning of Putin critic Alexei Navalny.

“The Department of Commerce is committed to preventing Russia from accessing sensitive US technologies that might be diverted to its malign chemical weapons activities,” a statement from the department read.

Apart from Navalny, who was poisoned with a nerve agent, Putin is accused of being behind the attempted assassination of former Russian military officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the United Kingdom.

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- With Reuters