The White House said Tuesday it was not the place of the United States to question how other countries conduct their elections — a contention that runs counter to years of critical statements by presidents and other officials about elections in Russia and many other countries.
“We don’t get to dictate how other countries operate,” the press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said. “We can only focus on the freeness and fairness of our elections.”
She later railed against the investigation of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, which could have affected the results in 2016.
Mr. Putin won with more than 76 percent of the vote. International observers said Russian electoral authorities counted the votes efficiently, but that several other factors prevented the contest from being fair.
“Restrictions on the fundamental freedoms of assembly, association and expression, as well as on candidate registration, have limited the space for political engagement and resulted in a lack of genuine competition,” observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in a report.
Sen. John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was quick to criticize Mr. Trump’s call to Mr. Putin.
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“An American president does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections,” Mr. McCain said in a statement issued by his office. “And by doing so with Vladimir Putin, President Trump insulted every Russian citizen who was denied the right to vote in a free and fair election to determine their country’s future, including the countless Russian patriots who have risked so much to protest and resist Putin’s regime.”
The White House pointed out that in March 2012, former President Barack Obama had a telephone conversation with Mr. Putin and congratulated him on his election victory at that time.
Officials in the Obama administration said there was lively debate about whether, and when, Mr. Obama should make that call. Mr. Obama waited several days before calling, prompting questions about whether he was going to snub Mr. Putin.
After the 2012 election, the State Department issued a separate statement in which it said, “The United States congratulates the Russian people on the completion of the Presidential elections, and looks forward to working with the President-elect after the results are certified and he is sworn in.”
In his remarks, Mr. Trump noted that Mr. Putin has expressed concern about the escalating arms race between the United States and Russia.
He noted that his administration was spending $700 billion to upgrade the American military, and said he would never allow Russia, or any other country, to approach its military might.
“We will never allow anybody to have anything even close to what we have,” Mr. Trump said.
The president said he and Mr. Putin would also discuss tensions in Ukraine, Syria and North Korea, among other issues.
The Trump administration issued a new nuclear policy last month that experts say will touch off a new kind of nuclear arms race — one based less on numbers of weapons and more on new tactics and technologies.
The White House vows to counter a rush by the Russians to modernize their forces even while staying within the limits imposed by an arms control treaty negotiated by Mr. Obama.