After months of promising to engage more with Russia, President-elect Donald Trump vowed to enhance America's nuclear capabilities, warning Russian President Vladimir Putin to avoid circumstances that may set the two global powers on an "alternate path."
Trump yesterday passed along a "very nice letter" his transition team says was sent to him by Putin, which urges Trump to act "in a constructive and pragmatic manner" to "restore the framework of bilateral cooperation."
Putin's letter, dated December 15, also notes that serious global and regional challenges "show that the relations between Russia and the US remain an important factor in ensuring stability and security in the modern world."
Trump said in response to the letter that Putin's "thoughts are so correct," noting that he hoped "both sides are able to live up to these thoughts, and we do not have to travel an alternate path."
The Russian government did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation that Putin sent the letter. The Kremlin does not always report the letters Putin sends to foreign leaders. Trump's transition team said the English-language letter was an unofficial translation.
The exchange comes on the heels of comments by both Trump and Putin about the need to strengthen their countries' nuclear arsenals. Trump re-opened the debate over nuclear proliferation Thursday, declaring on Twitter that the US should "greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability" until the rest of the world "comes to its senses" regarding nuclear weapons. Those comments echoed an earlier statement by Putin who said this week that strengthening his country's nuclear capabilities should be a chief military objective in the coming year.
But Putin downplayed the significance of Trump's comments yesterday at a marathon end-of-year news conference, saying he sees "nothing unusual" in Trump's pledge to strengthen the US nuclear forces, calling the statement in line with the president-elect's campaign promises.
In his wide-ranging remarks, the Russian leader claimed that his country's military is stronger than any potential aggressor, but acknowledged that the US military is bigger. He also cast the modernization of Russia's nuclear arsenals as a necessary response to the US missile defense system.
Trump extolled Putin's leadership during the campaign and called for a tempered approach to US-Russia relations. And while Putin had described Trump as "bright and talented" during the campaign, observers say Russia's interest is centered around relief from crippling sanctions implemented under the Obama administration, which is viewed as a gateway to bolstering Russia as the political and economic equivalent of the United States.