The two leaders exchanged pleasantries, however, many divisions remain as the global pandemic wreaks havoc in both countries.

With tensions between the two countries still high, US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin discussed pandemic and other strategically important issues between the two countries over the phone on Thursday, May 7.

A landmark nuclear treaty New START, signed in 2010 under the Obama administration, which limits the number of nuclear missiles, is set to expire in 2021 and time is running out for a new treaty.

Earlier this year in March US President Donald Trump announced on Twitter: “A bold new trilateral arms control initiative with China and Russia.”

The US is seeking to negotiate a new treaty that would include the Chinese, Russian and American nuclear arsenal, something that Moscow and Beijing have so far rejected.

In a statement, the White House said the two leaders spoke of “effective arms control”. A Kremlin statement of the phone call made no mention of that, and spoke of “maintaining strategic stability”.

The divisions lay bare that the two countries are far from coming to a mutual agreement.

Coronavirus cooperation

Russia and the US have consistently had the highest levels of confirmed coronavirus cases in recent days. Russia’s rate of growth looks set to surpass Spain which has almost 260,000 cases.

In the conversation between the two leaders, a White House statement said that: “[The] United States is working hard to care for Americans at home and is also ready to provide assistance to any country in need, including Russia.”

The Kremlin confirmed the US account stating that “the US President offered to send a consignment of medical equipment to Russia” however, did not confirm whether Russia would accept such an offer.

Russia’s economy, already battered by US-led sanctions and more recently by a drop in oil prices, is likely to see a severe economic fallout from the spread of the virus.

The US is in a similar predicament with unemployment skyrocketing and both countries are likely to see the economic squeeze reflected on their political hold over their countries.

Trump is facing re-election this year and Putin was in the process of amending the constitution in a bid to extend his reign over the country. Both prospects have for now, at least, been blown off the primary agenda.

The two nations could also see the impact of the virus reflected on their military budgets.

One analyst wrote: “In 2019, the combined budget of our two primary strategic competitors, Russia and China, was $326 billion—less than half of the Pentagon’s annual spending. Moreover, these countries will also likely have to reduce spending on defence to cope with the damage caused by Covid-19.”

The Chinese question

Beijing has been wary of the US approaches to it joining a Nuclear Treaty and controls that it could place on its military capability. The Trump administration has used China as a scapegoat in order to pull out of treaties with Russia.

China in the past has not been part of nuclear agreements, owing to its small nuclear arsenal, however, with the US walking away from treaties, the move is unlikely to engender much confidence in the process.

One analyst has stated: “holding New START hostage to Chinese agreement to join a trilateral negotiation makes no sense.”

The US estimates that China’s nuclear weapons number in the “low couple of hundreds”, far below the more than 12,000 such weapons held by Russia and the US.

Source: TRT World