WASHINGTON – Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain warned against pursuing another “reset” in United States-Russia relations, a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President-elect Donald Trump agreed by phone to work towards improving ties.
“We should place as much faith in such statements as any other made by a former KGB agent who has plunged his country into tyranny, murdered his political opponents, invaded his neighbors, threatened America’s allies, and attempted to undermine America’s elections,” McCain (R-Ariz.) said in a statement.
Trump frequently praised Putin on the campaign trail, calling him a strong leader and a better leader in the Russian system of governance than President Barack Obama is in the U.S. The praise was met with criticism by leading Democrats and Republicans. Trump has also said that the U.S. should work more closely with Russia in Syria to battle extremists, including ISIS.
During the Monday phone call, the men “agreed to assess the current very poor state of Russian-American relations, but also spoke in favor of active joint work to their normalization” and to move towards “cooperation on a wide range of issues,” according to a statement from the Kremlin.
McCain, a critic of the “reset” in Russia relations under Obama, said that another go at it would be a mistake. He said that partnering with Russia would mean working with Syrian President Bashar al Assad, and being culpable in the deaths of civilians and the very rebel groups that the U.S. is supporting.
“The Obama Administration’s last attempt at resetting relations with Russia culminated in Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and military intervention in the Middle East,” he said.
“At the very least, the price of another ‘reset’ would be complicity in Putin and Assad’s butchery of the Syrian people. That is an unacceptable price for a great nation. When America has been at its greatest, it is when we have stood on the side those fighting tyranny. That is where we must stand again.”
The newly elected Obama administration attempted to improve relations between the U.S. and Russia, with then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton famously pressing a symbolic red “reset” button with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in March 2009.
Following the “reset,” the U.S. and Russia agreed to reduce their strategic nuclear arsenals, work together to limit North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear programs and to allow the U.S. access to Russian airspace to supply NATO troops fighting in Afghanistan. Relations began to falter in 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea and intervened in Eastern Ukraine.
Following the reset, in 2009, Obama scrapped George W. Bush Administration’s plan to build a missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. This year, amid tension with Russia, the Obama administration launched a NATO-centric approach to the shield in Romania that will add to defensive systems already in place in Germany, Turkey and Spain. The Obama administration and NATO has said that the shield is about protecting allies from Iran and its expanding arsenal, not Russia.