FACT CHECK: Did Obama Congratulate Putin On His Election Victory?

Kush Desai | Fact Check Reporter

After controversially calling Russian President Vladimir Putin to congratulate him on his recent election victory, President Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday that former President Barack Obama had also given Putin a congratulatory call.

“I called President Putin of Russia to congratulate him on his election victory (in past, Obama called him also),” he tweeted.

Verdict: True

Obama called Putin in 2012 several days after the results were announced to congratulate him on winning his presidential election.

Fact Check:

Putin handily won a fourth term as Russian president Sunday in what was widely considered a flawed and rigged election. Trump accordingly faced political backlash when he told reporters Tuesday that he had given Putin a congratulatory phone call for his electoral victory.

Trump pushed back on criticism by claiming that Obama had also called Putin when he won his last election bid.

An archived White House press release indicates that Obama did in fact call Putin after the 2012 Russian election.

“President Obama called Russian President-elect and Prime Minister Putin to congratulate him on his recent victory,” the release said. “President Obama and President-Elect Putin agreed to continue their efforts to find common ground and remove obstacles to better relations.”

Trump similarly expressed an interest in furthering cooperation between the two countries. “The call had to do also with the fact that we will probably get together in the not too distant future so that we can discuss arms, we can discuss the arms race,” he told reporters in the Oval Office Tuesday. “And also to discuss Ukraine and Syria and North Korea and various other things.”

But while Trump called Putin two days after the Russian election took place, Obama phoned the Russian leader five days after the 2012 election. Reporters found out about the conversation from a press statement that was released on a late Friday afternoon.

The State Department under Obama did issue a timelier press release addressing the election the day after it occurred, but the statement did not even mention Putin by name.

“The United States congratulates the Russian people on the completion of the Presidential elections, and looks forward to working with the President-elect,” the release said.

The State Department went on to underscore “concerns about the conditions under which the campaign was conducted, the partisan use of government resources, and procedural irregularities on election day, among other issues.”

Yet even Obama’s response to the 2012 Russian election was met with political and media backlash. Then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney argued, for instance, that the press release did not go far enough. “It should have condemned the flagrant manipulation and media restrictions that marred this election,” Romney had said in a statement.

Others similarly criticized Obama’s congratulatory call for, they argued, effectively validating Putin. “The Russian people and international observers may not see last Sunday’s presidential election in Russia as legitimate,” read a 2012 Foreign Policy article, “but President Barack Obama has now officially endorsed the return of Russian past and future President Vladimir Putin.”

Many of the concerns that had been raised by the Obama administration were recently reiterated by a spokeswoman for Trump’s State Department.

“We have talked for a long time here about the clampdown on many of the freedoms that people should enjoy in Russia and have not been able to enjoy,” she told reporters. “We saw on the news over the weekend that some people were paid to turn out to vote. We’ve seen that opposition leaders have been intimidated, jailed and other things of the sort.”

She later discussed recent sanctions that have been placed on Russia. Although the Trump administration has delayed the application of some sanctions, it did order three Russian diplomatic facilities to be closed, approve a major arms sale to Ukraine and sanction Russian entities and individuals tied to Crimea (which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014).

The Obama administration initially tried to “reset” the U.S.’s relationship with Russia, but it too ended up applying sanctions for its activities in Ukraine and meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

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Kush Desai

Fact Check Reporter