Russia Wants to Team Up With U.S. to 'Fight Against' Coronavirus Pandemic

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for a joint effort alongside the United States in battling the novel coronavirus pandemic amid back-to-back calls discussing the issue with his counterpart in Washington.

The Russian leader linked up Friday with cosmonauts at the International Space Station, an area of ongoing cooperation with the U.S. despite geopolitical tensions between the two countries. Putin called it "a clear example of the effective partnership of our countries in the interests of all mankind" and discussed efforts to expand this coordination to include "work with actual problems" back on Earth.

"I do not want to talk about this, but I have to. I mean the fight against the pandemic, I mean the situation on world markets," Putin said, referencing his Thursday talk with President Donald Trump during which they "discussed these problems."

The pair held a second call Friday, focusing on both Russia and Saudi Arabia's attempts to rebalance the shattered oil market by making a deal as well as the two presidents' mutual interest in battling the COVID-19 disease. "Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump also discussed the coronavirus pandemic and gave an assessment to the actions being taken in Russia and the United States to prevent the spread of the virus," the Kremlin said in a readout also referencing other "topical aspects of bilateral relations."

"Today, President Donald J. Trump spoke with President Vladimir Putin of Russia," the White House said in its own statement. "President Trump and President Putin discussed the latest efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic and maintain stability in global energy markets. The two leaders also covered critical bilateral and global issues."

donald, trump, vladimir, putin, us, russia
A combination of pictures shows U.S. President Donald Trump speaking at a rally in Phoenix, Arizona, on February 19, 2020 and Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking at a ceremony in Jerusalem on January 23. The two men initially sought to reset troubled relations between Washington and Moscow, but their complicated ties have been mired in geopolitical tensions. JIM WATSON/EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

The novel coronavirus has infected more than 1.65 million people as of Friday, including over 100,000 deaths and nearly 370,000 recoveries. The U.S. has registered the worst outbreak on record with nearly half a million confirmed cases and more than 17,800 deaths, while Russia has reported a substantially lower figure of fewer than 12,000 cases and just short of 100 deaths.

Major cities and regions in both countries have gone into lockdown, as they have in nations around the world, in an effort to curb the coronavirus threat. At the same time, the U.S. and Russia have also sent assistance abroad to countries struggling against the disease.

As COVID-19 figures continue to grow in the U.S., however, resources have been increasingly mobilized to address the crisis at home. Newsweek previously reported on a CIA assessment late last month that warned of a potential shift in the global balance of power favoring Russia and its strategic partner, China, which appears to have turned the tide against its own outbreak, the first in the world to be observed.

While the State Department has set out to battle what it described as Russian and Chinese disinformation regarding the origin of COVID-19, the U.S. has also accepted deliveries of critical medical supplies such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators from its leading rivals. In footage showing Russia's Antonov An-124 arriving last week at John F. Kennedy International Airport, the air traffic controller could be heard saying: "We sincerely thank you for all the assistance you are bringing in."

"Both countries have provided humanitarian assistance to each other in times of crisis in the past and will no doubt do so again in the future," the State Department said in a statement at the time. "This is a time to work together to overcome a common enemy that threatens the lives of all of us."

Washington and Moscow teamed up against the mutual Axis foes of Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire during World War II—in which Russia's 75th victory anniversary was still set to be celebrated in Moscow this May despite the pandemic—but the ideological opponents soon after set out on a decades-long history of great power competition throughout the Cold War. The 1990s collapse of the Soviet Union left the country's military and economy in disarray, but Putin has sought to revitalize Russian power and influence around the world since first assuming the presidency at the turn of the 21st century.

Putin had mixed relations with Trump's two predecessors, ending on a chilly note with former President Barack Obama, whose administration accused the Kremlin of an active campaign to influence the 2016 election in the Republican candidate's favor. Trump entered the White House in 2017 promising to reset relations with Russia—but his complicated ties with Putin have since been mired in investigations into their alleged collusion; geopolitical tensions over conflicts in countries such as Syria and Ukraine; and a race for faster, more advanced nuclear-capable weapons of war.