McCain visits frontline Ukraine troops in anti-Putin gesture

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Sen. John McCain, who has emerged as the chief opponent within the Republican party to Donald Trump's warming relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, underscored his tough stance Saturday by spending New Year's Eve at a forward combat outpost with Ukrainian troops.
The senator, accompanied by fellow senators Lindsey Graham and Amy Klobuchar, posted photos on Twitter of his meetings with Ukrainian marines in the village of Shyrokine. In one, he is shown posing with troops in front of a Ukrainian flag. In another, he joins a Ukrainian marine commander in examining a piece of a 125mm tank shell.
"We stand w/them in their fight against #Putin's aggression," McCain wrote in one tweet.
McCain, R-Ariz., Graham, R-S.C., and Klobuchar, D-Minn, are members of the Senate Armed Services committee. They have been visiting countries bordering Russia, particularly NATO members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as Ukraine and Georgia, which was invaded by Russian troops in 2008. They also met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who was decked out in camouflage along with the Ukrainian troops.
The visit to Ukraine is particularly pointed since it was the Russian strong-arm annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and the cross-border military support for anti-Ukrainian government forces in eastern Ukraine that reversed a thaw in U.S.-Russian relations and led to the imposition of economic sanctions by Washington and the European Union.
McCain, along with Graham, has also been at the forefront in supporting new sanctions against Russia over the Obama administration's charge of cyberattacks by Russian operators in the 2016 election, notably the Democratic National Committeeand emails of Democratic party staff. The administration imposed sanctions on Russia and expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the U.S.
“The retaliatory measures announced by the Obama Administration today are long overdue," the two Republican senators said. "But ultimately, they are a small price for Russia to pay for its brazen attack on American democracy. We intend to lead the effort in the new Congress to impose stronger sanctions on Russia.”
The tough stance has contrasted sharply with the expressed views of President-elect Donald Trump. The Republican standard-bearer responded to the initial hacking report by saying he would discuss the issue with intelligence leaders next week, but otherwise felt that "(i)t’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things."
After Putin declined to expel any U.S. diplomats, in the usual tit-for-tat diplomatic response, Trump tweeted praise for the Russian leader's decision, saying: "Great move on delay (by V. Putin) — I always knew he was very smart!"
For their part, McCain, Graham and Klobuchar are calling for even tougher measures against the Kremlin. They told RadioFreeEurope/Radio Liberty in an interview in Kiev on Thursday that the U.S. will not strike a "Faustian bargain" with Putin, amid speculation Trump could scrap sanctions in a bid to improve ties with Moscow.
McCain, who has scheduled hearings on cyberattacks next week as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said any possible deal with Putin "would interfere with and undermine the freedom and democracies that exist today."
Graham said Congress would target the Russian energy and banking sectors with more sanctions, as well as "Putin and his inner circle."
"We're going to do two things: We're going after Putin harder with tougher sanctions and we're going to be more helpful to our friends, like here in Ukraine," Graham said in the interview.

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