Like Putin, Obama hopes he too can steal a third term in office.

MOSCOW (AFP) — US President Barack Obama on Wednesday congratulated Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on his return to the presidency, the Kremlin said, despite often testy relations.

Obama and Putin discussed in a telephone conversation how Russian-American relations can be developed, the Kremlin said in a statement.

Putin has been highly critical of the United States, accusing Washington of helping or financing protest movements which have sprung up since controversial legislative elections in December.

State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said Tuesday the United States was “disturbed” by Russia’s security crackdown on peaceful protesters and urged the authorities to allow freedom of speech and assembly.

After four years as prime minister, Putin began his third term as Russian president on Monday in an opulent Kremlin ceremony overshadowed by more arrests of activists protesting his 12-year domination of the country.

Two leading opposition activists said Wednesday they were sentenced to 15 days each in jail after they were arrested along with dozens of others ahead of a tightly policed parade marking Russia’s 1945 defeat of Nazi Germany.