WASHINGTON – A leading Republican voice on national security matters has declared as "unacceptable" any attempt by the incoming Trump administration to reset relations with Russia.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the price of starting anew with Moscow would be U.S. complicity in the "butchery of the Syrian people" being carried out by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar Assad.
"That is an unacceptable price for a great nation," McCain said. "When America has been at its greatest, it is when we have stood on the side of those fighting tyranny. That is where we must stand again."
McCain, the Armed Services Committee chairman, dismissed Putin as a former KGB agent who has plunged his country into tyranny, murdered his political rivals and threatened U.S. allies.
President-elect Donald Trump and Putin spoke by telephone Monday to discuss future efforts to improve U.S.-Russian ties. Trump's office said in a statement that he is looking forward to having a "strong and enduring relationship with Russia."
Trump spoke favorably of Putin during the presidential campaign, but he outlined few specifics as to how he would go about recalibrating ties with Russia that had become badly frayed during Barack Obama's presidency.
"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," McCain said.
Throughout the campaign, the Kremlin insisted that it had no favorites and rejected claims of interference in the U.S. election. Russia's state-controlled media, however, made no secret of their sympathy for Trump.
McCain offered Trump only lukewarm support during the campaign and earlier this year backed former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's broadside against the real estate mogul. Romney warned that if the GOP chose Trump, "the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished."
In a statement following Romney's speech, McCain said Republicans should "think long and hard about who they want to be our next commander in chief and leader of the free world."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a foreign policy hawk and close friend of McCain's, said Tuesday he plans to hold hearings on "Russia's misadventures throughout the world." Among the areas he wants to examine is whether Russia had a role in the hacking of Democratic Party organizations before the election.
"When it comes to all things Russia, I am going to be hard ass," said Graham, who chairs the Senate subcommittee that controls foreign aid spending. Republicans can't "sit on the sidelines" and let allegations that a foreign government interfered in a U.S. election go unanswered because it may have been temporarily beneficial to the GOP's cause, he said.
"This is a defining moment for the country," Graham said. "I want a good relationship with Russia, but things have to substantially change."