Trump blow as Putin, top ally congratulate Biden
Russian President Vladimir Putin has finally congratulated Joe Biden on winning the US presidential election more than a month after the result was called for the US President-elect, saying he hoped the countries could set aside their differences to promote global security.
Mr Putin wished Mr Biden every success and said that, "for my part, I am ready for collaboration and contacts with you," according to a Kremlin statement.
It comes as US Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also congratulated Mr Biden on Tuesday (local time) after remaining silent on the issue since last month's election.
Mr McConnell's acknowledgment of Mr Biden's incoming administration has dealt a blow to any lingering hopes Mr Trump may have had of reversing his election defeat.
"The Electoral College has spoken," the powerful senator from Kentucky said in a speech on the Senate floor. "So today I want to congratulate president-elect Joe Biden."
Mr Putin was one of the last remaining leaders of major world countries to have held back on congratulating Mr Biden, who was officially confirmed as the next US president by the Electoral College on Monday (local time).
Officials in Moscow, including the country's elections chief and foreign minister, had earlier criticised the US elections process, describing it as archaic and not representative of the will of the people.
In his congratulatory telegram to Mr Biden, Mr Putin said that their countries "bear special responsibility for global security and stability."
He said he was confident that Russia and the United States could, "despite their differences, really contribute to solving many problems and challenges that the world is currently facing." Mr Biden is expected to take a tougher stand against Russia than outgoing US President Donald Trump, who he slammed during the campaign for having "embraced so many autocrats around the world, starting with Vladimir Putin".
Russia was accused of interfering in the 2016 US election to help get Mr Trump elected, in the hope he would take a softer line with Moscow.
HISTORIC DAY FOR US
On Monday (local time), the US experienced a trio of historic moments as the first Americans were vaccinated against COVID, virus deaths in the world's richest country topped 300,000 and 78-year-old Mr Biden was formally handed the electoral college votes necessary to become president.
Mr Trump continued to insist he was the rightful winner of the November poll as his opponent again claimed victory.
Speaking from a stage at his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, Mr Biden coughed and cleared his throat more than a dozen times as he called on Mr Trump to accept his loss.
"In America, when questions are raised about the legitimacy of any election, those questions are resolved through the legal process - and that's precisely what happened here," Mr Biden said
"The Trump campaign brought dozens and dozens and dozens of legal challenges to test the result.
"They were heard again and again and each time they were heard, they were found to be without merit."
The Trump campaign has lodged at least 50 legal challenges to the vote with most having already been dismissed.
Mr Biden described the campaign's Texas lawsuit, which the Supreme Court dismissed last week, as unconstitutional.
"It's a position so extreme, we've never seen it before," he said of the state's efforts to overturn the result.
"A position that refused to respect the will of the people, refused to respect the rule of law, and refused to honour our Constitution."
Mr Biden won 306 electoral college votes, the same number Mr Trump took in 2016, and won the popular vote by seven million ballots.
"This election now ranks as the clearest demonstration of the true will of the American people. One of the most amazing demonstrations of civic duty we've ever seen," he said, adding that the turnout had defied predictions.
"It should be celebrated, not attacked.
"Even in the face of a public health crisis unlike anything we've experienced in our lifetimes. The people voted and they voted in record numbers."
It came as Americans celebrated the dawn of a post-COVID era with the emotional vaccination of a frontline nurse as the country marked its 300,000th death from the coronavirus.
With infections out of control across the country, the US now accounts for almost a fifth of the world's official COVID deaths and another 190,000 confirmed cases on Monday.
But with the beginning of the biggest ever vaccination program, the largest mobilisation of resources since World War II, the US finally had reason to celebrate.
"I believe this is the weapon that will end the war," said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Intensive care nurse Sandra Lindsay was the first person to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine after it was cleared for emergency use over the weekend.
She said she was relieved and proud to volunteer after losing family members to COVID and having seen "a lot of hurt, pain, suffering, death" in her role at a Queens hospital.
"I'm feeling well, I would like to thank all the front line workers, all my colleagues," she said afterwards.
"We all need to do our part to put an end to the pandemic."
Health workers across the country will receive the first shots, followed by nursing home residents in coming weeks.
General Gustave Perna of Operation Warp Speed said an initial 2.9 million doses would be delivered at more than 1000 sites by the end of the week.
It came as infectious diseases chief Anthony Fauci gave an optimistic timeline of March or April for when "herd immunity" would be achieved and average Americans could expect to receive vaccinations.
He said that would be when "the normal healthy man and woman in the street who has no underlying conditions would likely get it".
But public health experts warn Americans are in for a very dark winter before then, with a death toll of 500,000 expected and new shutdowns looming across the country.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio this week shut all indoor dining in restaurants and warned of a potential return to a full shutdown.
"There's the potential of having to do a full pause, a full shutdown, in the coming weeks, because we can't let this kind of momentum go," he said.
"We're seeing the kind of level of infection with the coronavirus we haven't seen since May and we have got to stop that momentum - or else, our hospital system will be threatened."
- with wires
Originally published as Trump blow as Putin, top ally congratulate Biden