Senator John McCain has called on the United States to stand up to Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. The veteran Republican senator is on a tour of states that border Russia, including the Baltic countries, Ukraine and Georgia. McCain has used his trip to criticize a newly aggressive Russia.
“We will strongly urge our colleagues toward more meaningful and stronger sanctions against Russia because of their attack on the United States of America,” McCain said, according to Reuters. The Arizona senator was speaking in Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi.
Russian troops have occupied two breakaway regions of Georgia since a brief war in 2008. Abkhazia and South Ossetia declared themselves independent and allied themselves with Putin’s Russia. No other countries recognize their independence other than Russia.
“I believe that we must continue to improve our relations and to understand that Vladimir Putin – unless we stand up to him – will continue his aggression and we must stand up to Vladimir Putin,” McCain said.
Tensions between Russia and the U.S. have been mounting over the last few years. Russia’s invasion of eastern Ukraine in support of separatist rebels and its support of Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad have led to worsening relations between the two old Cold War rivals.
American intelligence agencies also believe Russia was behind the email hack of the Democratic National Committee during the recent presidential election. Both the CIA and the FBI have concluded Russia was attempting to help Donald Trump win the White House.
McCain has called for a full congressional investigation into Russia and its role in hacking, though he is in a minority among his Republican colleagues. Donald Trump and his campaign have urged the American public to “move on” and implied that it is impossible to know if Russia was responsible.
McCain visited Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, where he met Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Poroshenko’s government is still fighting Russian-backed rebels in the east of the country. Russia denies it is directly involved in the fighting, but the U.S. and the international community has concluded that Russian troops and equipment are in Ukraine.
“I send the message from the American people – we are with you, your fight is our fight and we will win together,” McCain said in Ukraine. “In 2017 we will defeat the invaders and send them back where they came from. To Vladimir Putin – you will never defeat the Ukrainian people and deprive them of their independence and freedom.”
McCain’s tone is very different from President-elect Donald Trump. Trump repeatedly praised and defended Vladimir Putin and Russia during his campaign. Since winning the election, Trump has signaled his intention to improve relations between the two major powers.
Trump’s choice of Rex Tillerson for secretary of state is a clear sign that the new administration will be friendly to Russia. As CEO of oil giant ExxonMobil, Tillerson enjoys a close personal relationship with Vladimir Putin and he is considered the most influential non-Russian in Putin’s circle.
By contrast, McCain claimed Russian hacking was a potential act of war and called for retaliation. McCain urged U.S. leaders to stand up to Russia, according to The Guardian. McCain’s tour of former Soviet-controlled areas is a nod to Russia’s territorial ambitions.
John McCain and his Republican Senate colleague Lindsey Graham have both called for a full investigation into Russia and its attempts to influence the U.S. election. McCain’s tour of countries bordering Russia may be intended to send a message to the Trump administration.
McCain and many other Republicans are wary of an increasingly aggressive Russia. McCain criticized Donald Trump’s comments on Vladimir Putin and his apparent willingness to improve relations. McCain may resist any attempt to create warmer relations between America and Putin. The senator’s strong opposition to Russia has put him on a collision course with the incoming president.
[Featured Image by Mindaugas Kulbis/AP Images]